After months of setbacks and concerns over labour issues on the site, Trinity’s Printing House Square has hit more roadblocks and was less than 50 per cent completed at the end of August, far behind where College hoped it would be, The University Times has learned.
Internal College Board documents, obtained by The University Times, show that just 48.86 per cent of the 250-bed complex was finished on August 30th, far short of the 66.16 per cent of the project that Trinity planned to have finished by the same point.
The documents show that the project, which has been dogged by delays and negative publicity in recent months amid widespread labour issues, is costing Trinity more than €62 million to build.
The most recent revised completion date for the project is December of this year, but two current members of Board confirmed to The University Times that College has acknowledged at meetings that this date is unlikely to be met.
Printing House Square has been shrouded in controversy since July, when the Dublin Inquirer reported on the pay issues faced by apprentice plumbers working for GMG Mechanical, one of the companies subcontracted by main contractor Bennett Construction Limited.
The University Times subsequently revealed that some 30 workers were being illegally underpaid on the site.
Unite the Union, which represents some of the plumbers on the site, first made Trinity aware of the issue in March, but Trinity did not open an investigation into the matter until July.
In the months since, the union has staged two protests outside the construction site. Speaking to The University Times at one of the protests, Rob Kelly, the regional organiser for Unite, said: “We have established [GMG Mechanical] have broken the law, they are still breaking the law, and yet they are working here with impunity.”
“It’s arguably the most prestigious place of education in the country. We highlighted this in March of this year with Trinity. They ignored us”, he said.
When planning permission was granted for the build, it was projected to be completed in 2018. But a number of setbacks created by An Taisce and An Bord Pleanála held up the complex. An Bord Pleanála argued that the construction could compromise the existing aesthetic of Dublin city centre.
When these issues were eventually resolved, the project was then given a revised completion date of August 1st, 2019, in time to house students for the 2019/20 academic year.
College Board documents seen by The University Times show that construction was 45 per cent complete on August 1st, 12 per cent behind the planned progress for that date.
At the beginning of July, the project was nine per cent behind schedule.
Despite these delays, the project has not exceeded its original total budget of over €62 million, according to the documents. Over €40 million of this is to go to Bennett Construction, with around €27 million of this already paid.
Amid a city-wide accommodation crisis, Printing House Square is one of a number of accommodation projects College is embarking upon in order to create housing for its students.
Up to 350 new beds are to be added to Trinity Hall in Dartry over the next few years, which are projected to cost 18 per cent less than the current rent for single rooms in the complex.
It was also announced last year that College rooms on Pearse St are being refurbished to provide accommodation for up to 36 students.
Trinity also leases two luxury student accommodation complexes in Dublin, Kavanagh Court on Gardiner St and Binary Hub in the Liberties. Earlier this month, The University Times reported that Trinity’s lease on Binary Hub is due to expire in May 2020. The College did not confirm whether it would seek to renew the lease.
As well as housing students, Printing House Square will provide a new home for the College Health and Disability Service.
The building will be located on the former site of Oisín House, which was owned by Trinity and leased to the Department of Social Protection. The name Printing House Square came from Provost Patrick Prendergast’s insistence that the building fit in with the tradition of the many squares on the main campus, such as Front Square and New Square.
The project also involves repairs to the adjacent historic Printing House, which dates from 1733.
Once finished, the building will house squash and racquetball courts and a renovated rifle range, as well as ergonomically sound seminar rooms. The student apartments will be arranged in groups of six ensuite rooms, all connected to a communal kitchen space.
It is not yet known how much the rent for the new beds will be. Rent in Trinity Hall starts at €158 per week for a shared room. Binary Hub and Kavanagh Court weekly rent starts at €250 per week.
Those involved in the College Health and Disability Service say they hope the move to Printing House Square will alleviate some of the pressure on the services.
The move will provide seven extra medical consulting rooms and a purpose-built seminar room.
Speaking to The University Times in March, Director of the Health Service Dr David McGrath said: “When the architect was given the remit to design the Health Centre here, about 25 years ago now, there was an understanding that there would never be more than a combined staff and a student population of 10,000, so that’s what it was designed for.”
“Now we are at about 25,000 students and staff so it’s just impossible to deliver a service within the building”, he said.
The move, McGrath said, will hopefully allow the services to take on “at least” two more full-time GPs and practice nurses.
“They’re future-proofing it against the increase in student numbers and the demographic changes”, he said, “so we will have the infrastructure”.
The relocation will coincide with the Disability Service being renamed the Ability Hub. Speaking to The University Times in February, director of the Disability Service Declan Treanor said: “We never actually put the [old] name on the door of our office, because some people just don’t connect with the words, or they don’t want to go into a space that’s called that.”
The new accommodation will be “universally accessible”, Treanor said, adding that the rooms were “the best accommodation Trinity will have by a long shot” in terms of accessibility.
Correction: 16:51, September 25th, 2019
An earlier version of this article, which appeared in the print copy of The University Times, incorrectly stated that the Printing House Square project was 48.86 per cent completed on August 31st. In fact, 48.86 per cent was completed on August 30th.