A pair of reports into the Cospicua home for the elderly tabled in Parliament on Wednesday by Active Ageing Minister Jo Etienne Abela show the home’s sorry state of upkeep and maintenance or the lack thereof.
The reports that were drawn up following inspections by engineers in 2021 show there was a lot more wrong with the building than merely its crumbling concrete.
In fact, most of the building’s infrastructure and crucial security elements were found to be suffering from a severe lack of maintenance and the patch-up work undertaken over the years was no longer making the grade.
A furore had erupted at the end of May when the 120-odd residents of the Cospicua home were informed the home was to be closed down for urgent refurbishment work and that they would be relocated to other homes in the interim period.
Care Malta, a Vassallo Group company, has had a management contract for the residence since it opened in 1999. The contract has not been renewed since 2013 and has instead been periodically renewed every six months since.
In the meantime, the building has been left to deteriorate and engineers commissioned to inspect the building up to two years ago sounded multiple alarm bells.
One such report by Social Projects Management Ltd following a site visit on 13 April 2021 and dealt with mechanical and electrical services at the home, which were also found to have been in a sorry state and in urgent need of repair before an accident happens.
Fire hazards abound, alarm systems not functional and ‘obsolete’
The report found, for example, that the building’s fire alarm system was not functional when inspected, and that its panel constantly displayed several alarms when there was no fire.
The system was so obsolete that it could no longer even be maintained or repaired by the original supplier. The inspecting engineer had advised that a new system was an absolute necessity.
Nor did the building feature a protected fire escape staircase or fire doors. Moreover “doors intended to be such do not offer any form of protection”.
Other anti-fire systems were found to have “limited fire protection measures”.
“Services are passing through walls without any sealing, fire dampers, dry risers, or automatic extinguishing systems,” the inspecting engineer found.
He strongly advised, “A thorough fire study by a recognised fire expert needs to be carried out and requirements that are outlined should be immediately implemented.”
The building was found to have had a fire pump set up feeding a network of fire hose reels.
As the engineer observed, “Usually fire hose reels serve as a secondary means of fire-fighting however on the premises there are no other means to combat fire”.
The replacement of ageing fire hoses was also “solicited” and the pipe network was found to be in a “dire state, to the effect that a large section needs replacement (due to corrosion)”.
The fire pump was also found at the time to have even been switched off.
The air conditioning and plumbing systems were similarly found to have been those originally installed and in urgent need of repair given the “common occurrence of leaks due to corrosion”.
When it came to the plumbing system in particular, it was found the “complete replacement of the system is vital”.
Even the CCTV system was found to have been “now obsolete”, so much so that the original supplier informed the home’s administration “to refrain from calling the for repairs as there is no support from the manufacturer”.
The lifts servicing the building, according to the report, were faulty and also in need of replacement.
“It is very urgent to avoid any accident from happening,” the engineer inspecting the site found.
“Our opinion is to have a lift expert examine the duplex lifts and issue a report accordingly keeping in mind that the units are serving a public building.”
When it came to the building’s boilers for space heating and hot water were “still the original units [from when the building opened its doors in 1999] and need to be replaced”.
The same went for the hot water calorifiers, which had required several interventions over the years to stem leaks.
The inspecting engineer did not mince his words when he wrote they needed to be replaced “in the near future before any catastrophic failure results requiring stoppage of the plant”.
One of the calorifiers, in fact, was found to not even have had a manhole, with the engineer finding “thus, this unit has never been maintained/cleaned from calcium deposits” and that “due to the lack of maintenance and inspection, it might fail at any given instant”.
Anti-lightning system ‘cannibalised’
Air ducts serving the kitchen, meanwhile, were found to be discharging and taking in air within an “unacceptable 10 metres”.
The system’s fans too were broken from wear and tear and the engineer found that “proper repairs and modifications are required”.
It was also recommended that the entire kitchen set up should be replaced or at least the modifications and repairs being recommended should be done.
Hot water pumps were also found to have been the originally-installed equipment and over 20 years old, as was the piping, which required “several interventions” over the years”.
It was also found the building is “totally unprotected against lightning” after the roof-mounted copper lightning protection system “had been cannibalised” over the years and only small sections were found to still be in place.
State of the building’s concrete ‘not acceptable’
Another report by Social Projects Management Limited dates back to September 2021 and describes how the state of the actual structure was “far worse than had been expected”.
For example, when inspecting a fifth-floor terrace where some work was being undertaken, it was found that “large chunks of concrete fell off and it was noted that the reinforcement of the same balconies was not up to the relative standards”.
It was found that large pieces of concrete had fallen off the building mainly because there was “no steel present to hold the concrete in place”.
The consultants also noted that, apart from the reinforcement issue, “the most major concern was the strength of the concrete. It was found that in some areas the concrete was very easily removed and was definitely below expected standards”.
At that point, Terracore Ltd was called in to take core samples to determine the concrete’s strength.
It found that the concrete on two balconies sampled “was so weak that it did not even withstand the coring operation and as such, testing could not even be carried out”.
Where testing had been carried out, it was found the concrete was far below standard, so much so that the consultants remarked how “This is not acceptable.”
The government submitted its plans to demolish and rebuild the residential home for the elderly around four months ago.