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Published On: Fri, Sep 26th, 2014

Tackling growing menace of abandoned buildings in Abuja

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Abuja-abandoned-houseBy Stanley Onyekwere

In furtherance to its bolstered effort towards maintaining the aesthetic status of the Federal Capital City (FCC), officials of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) intensified its integrity test exercise on abandoned structures in the Territory, in order to curb the menace as well as its threats to human and environmental safety.

The exercise, which is being carried out by consultants, in conjunction with the Building Inspectorate Division, of the Development Control Department of the Council, targets majorly structures that are abandoned at their preliminary stage of development, for at least two years.

Checks revealed that buildings are erected in a sequence involving three stages, and a break in the sequence invites trouble depending on several factors, ranging from at what stage was construction abandoned, how long the project left unfinished to how much wind, rain, temperature change and ultraviolet light was it exposed to? All these can damage or even destroy an unprotected building over time.

However, it was observed that often than not, after calculating the cost of completing an abandoned building, developers either continues or try to sell it to someone who will complete the job and put them on the market, without first conducting an integrity test on the structure.

Also,buyers of abandoned buildings are often not careful to know if projects they’ve inherited can be salvaged. Also, developers under financial burden most times cut corners before finally walking away. And these abandoned buildings can sit empty month after month after month, and even years.

Experts have observed that any building abandoned for even a few months at primary stage of construction, especially in high humidity or continuing wetness, it can become seriously damaged. This is because, the longer the exposure, the worse the risk. However, exposure of elements is a big risk, but not the only worry.

By most accounts, abandoned buildings have numerous risks and dangers involved therein, and entering them could potentially get stranded or physically hurt. And many people are unaware of the types of dangers that exist in these buildings and are drawn to them out of curiosity or despair. These sites are sometimes surrounded by abandoned vehicles or machinery that can leak gasoline, oil or other dangerous and flammable substances.

Again, these unfinished structures, particularly those within developed areas, often serve as a dumpsite and public toilet for people living in the area, thereby increasing the chance of outbreak and spread of diseases in the Territory. There are many dangerous animals that can often be found in abandoned buildings as well, such as poisonous snakes and poisonous spiders. Others include raccoons, rats and feral cats, which have the ability to carry rabies and diseases, can sometimes be found there looking for food or shelter.

Also, abandoned buildings are often the sites of illegal activity because of how isolated they are.Criminal gangs often turn them into a meeting hall or warehouse to hide stolen goods or drugs. In the same vein, vagabonds equally routinely use these places as shelter during bad weather or as an alternative to sleeping on the streets. Also, they are sometimes used for the purpose of prostitution, because the buildings are insulated and private. In addition, drug peddlers and drug users are sometimes attracted to abandoned buildings to sell, make or use drugs without being observed by anyone.

According to a deputy director in the Building Inspectorate Division, of the Development Control Department of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC), Engr. Ogunkuade Gabriel, the existence of abandoned structures not only deface the beauty of the city’s terrain but pose a serious human and environmental challenge.

He noted that it has been observed that a lot of people have abandoned property in town, and some of them are being used by miscreants as well as serving as security threat to the Territory.

The deputy director made this point, while on inspection of some abandoned structures due for integrity test or demolition, in Utako District, last weekend.

Ogunkuade, said the exercise was long overdue, giving their inherent dangers to the society.

“We have observed that most of the structures that are collapsing in Abuja, and even the recent one in Lagos state, is because when a building is left for a very long time, and suddenly the owner decides to continue or start adding load on it, there is bound to be issue of structural instability.

“Most of these buildings, we are supposed to have removed them, but we just want to be sure that unnecessary ligation does not arise from such action, that’s why we are engaging consultants to help us test the integrity of the abandoned structures,” he stressed.

Continuing, he noted that about four years ago, the department had to publish a list of about 400 names of owners of such buildings scattered around the city.

“Although, some of the affected people have started coming and had begun doing the right thing – which is carrying out the structural stability test on their buildings, in conjunction with our consultant, thereafter, when the result is ok, we then give approval to continue the work.

“There are some of them, who have been given this kind of grace, but unfortunately they refused to continue with the development of their structures, therefore such buildings have to be removed if they fail the test.

Consequently, he warned that at end of the exercise, any structure that does not meet the standard, a memo is going to be written to the FCT minister for immediate removal.

On his part, Engr Adegoke Adeyemi,of king and Associate, the consultant with the FCT department development control, carrying out the structural integrity test on one of such buildings in Utako, said from time to time they are called upon to carry out such exercise (integrity test) on half-built construction site.

He explained that the process entails knowing the structural elements- by exposing the foundation; and then test the elements- the concrete, the reinforcement of a given building.

“We have the equipment to conduct the exercise- we test the concrete and the steel of an abandoned structures. We expose and take the sizes of the elements used in construction.

“In some cases, we still do soil investigation, to know the kind of soil on which a building is standing on if necessary, depending on the number of floors that the building is going to be built.

“After gathering all these data, we then take them to our office and take our system to do analysis, and thereafter come with concise report on our findings, and based on it, we will be able to advise them (government) properly on whether works on the buildings can continue, remedied or there is need to completely remove the structures,” the engineer emphasized.

Stressing further, he noted that, “most of us are aware of incessant collapse of buildings due to structural issues, most especially buildings that have been abandoned for some period.

“There is the tendency for the structural elements to fade depending on the quality as at the beginning of the construction. So, we are called upon to from time to time, to carry out such exercise.

“In many cases, through the exercise, a lot of property and lives have been saved, because if we go there before the problems begin to go out of hand or beyond repairs, we can arrest it.

“That’s what we do from time to time. And it’s only when people neglect to do this, we see building collapse but if we go there on time, in most cases it is preventable.”

Similarly, the Spokesperson of the Development Control, Kalu Emetu, reiterated that the exercise would be a continuous process, to ensure the proper development and maintenance of aesthetic status of the FCC, in line with global standard.

He opined that ordinarily, city managers are often called on to evaluate abandoned building site, before continuation, stressing that city inspectors often won’t issue a building permit to restart a stalled project without an expert assessment of any damage.

He added that owner of any abandoned building only gets approval from the department, upon presentation of certified evidence that it has been tested, to show it doesn’t have any problem; and when that is done her or she continues construction.

“It is a city wide exercise, no matter where you are, you are expected are not expected to continue your building after two years, without subjecting it through this kind of test; because it is only when this is done that the department will tell you that it is still behind you.

“The last one we did, we compiled 437 uncompleted buildings, and we told them that we expected them to come to the department, to do the needful, which means getting this kind of integrity test on their property, after which we give you another approval for you to go ahead with your development.

“But when that is not done, and anything that happens, Development control will just tell the public that we were not part of it,” the spokesman maintained.

It is therefore important to note that sites of abandoned structures aren’t just eyesores on the terrain of the Federal Capital City, but they’re equally physically and environmentally dangerous to the wellbeing of residents of the Territory.

And with the reoccurring incidence of avoidable building collapse and outbreak of diseases in the country, there is no doubt that ongoing intensified structural integrity test exercise on these unfinished structures, would go a long way in curtailing the menace, including its associated threats to human and environmental wellbeing in the city.

 

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