The cost of developing the first phase of the Parnell Square cultural quarter, which will include a new city library, has soared by almost €50 million in one year, despite the appointment of consultants to control the costs of the project.
New Dublin City Council figures estimate the cost of the scheme, including construction of a five-storey library and renovations to a number of Georgian buildings and the Hugh Lane Gallery, has hit €140 million, after contract changes and incentives to make the project “more attractive” to developers.
The project has been beset by budget overruns and delays since it was first announced a decade ago, with costs spiralling upwards despite the scope of the work being significantly scaled back.
The plans unveiled in 2013 involved the conversion of the former Christian Brothers School Coláiste Mhuire and its extension to become the main city library and conference centre, renovations and reuse of the buildings along the northside of Parnell Square, a new public plaza linking the library and the Hugh Lane Gallery, and a redesign of the northern end of the park linking to the Garden of Remembrance.
The Parnell Square Foundation, a partnership between the council and US real estate investment company Kennedy Wilson, was set up to develop the project. Kennedy Wilson agreed to lead the effort to raise private donations which would fully fund the project. The cultural quarter was at the time expected to cost €60 million and be completed by 2017.
However, in 2016 it emerged that the expected costs had risen to €100 million. The council subsequently agreed to contribute 45 per cent of the cost, using a loan from the European Investment Bank, with the remainder to be funded through donations. The target opening date was pushed out to 2020.
When permission was finally granted for the project by An Bord Pleanála in May 2019 the cost had risen to €110 million, with a new completion date of 2023. Two months later it emerged Kennedy Wilson had not secured financial backing for the scheme, which now had revised costs of €130 million.
The then council chief executive Owen Keegan determined the best course of action was for the council to go ahead with building the new library with its own funds, with essential repairs and renovations to some of the Georgian buildings and the Hugh Lane Gallery at a cost of approximately €80 million. This would form phase one of the cultural quarter with later phases to complete the original scheme as funding permitted.
As of November last year the budget for phase one remained at €80 million excluding VAT. However, in January of this year a new “multidisciplinary design team” including engineering and cost consultants Aecom Ireland and Hawkins Browns Architecture was appointed “in order to progress the project and control the costs and risks” the council said. The cost has now risen to €140 million including VAT, a difference, when the VAT calculations are made, of approximately €50 million.
Changes have been made to the project, the council said, comprising: entrances to the library from the Hugh Lane Gallery and Dorset Street, the inclusion of Building Information Modelling (an IT system used to manage costs) and “advance contracts designed to make the main construction contract more attractive to contractors”.
Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan said the project showed a “cavalier attitude to cost”.
“The council management seem willing to throw around huge sums of money like snuff at a wake on this project, with sums that don’t seem to bear any relationship to the realities of what is needed in the city,” he said.