Tam confirms Central Library will be built at Old Court Building

Alexis Tam (left) and Leung Hio Ming smile

The new Central Library will definitely be built on the site of the Old Court Building and former Judiciary Police headquarters in central Macau, the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture confirmed yesterday at the Legislative Assembly (AL).  During a meeting requested by lawmaker Song Pek Kei to discuss the location of the project, Alexis Tam said that the location “is ideal for holding such facilities.”

Song noted that the plan to build the new library in the city center does not gather the consensus of society, nor of the lawmakers. Some of the lawmakers do not see the “urgency” of a project that, in her opinion, is “under-evaluated and under-estimated.”

The lawmaker said that there are currently “305 libraries” in the territory, which receive around 2 million visits per year. In the preliminary plan for the central library, it is forecasted that the number of annual visitors could reach 3 million, a number that the lawmaker considers exaggerated and unrealistic.

On top of concerns with the location and the budget, which remains unclear, Song remarked that there are also concerns over the preservation of the historical aspects of the building, which will necessitate more complex and more expensive works than building the project on a vacant site.

Two plans for the Central Library are showcased

She suggested alternative locations for the library, such as the new land reclamation areas or adjacent to the Macau Science Center. “To insist on the idea of the current location would be a waste of time and money. It is best to choose another location and build it from scratch as that is more adequate to the needs of residents,” Song said.

The Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture disagreed, claiming that the government has heard many opinions and concluded that building the facility at the site of the Old Court Building was an appropriate decision. “Such a facility needs to be built in a location with several other facilities and a transportation network in place […] It is not just us [the government] saying this it is IFLA [International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions] saying it too,” he mentioned.

Putting together the figures to back his argument, Tam recalled that the Nam Van area is currently served by four parking lots with a capacity for 1,600 cars and 700 motorcycles as well as about 30 bus routes.

Another of the issues raising concern among lawmakers was the budget.

Tam clarified that the amount of MOP900 million previously mentioned by the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) was only an estimate, not a precise quote.

“We forecasted MOP900 million but I don’t think this sum is that accurate, it’s just a forecast,” he said, adding: “Hong Kong’s [Central Library] cost about HKD700 million but that was 10 years ago.”

“Only when there is a public tender for the construction can we have a concrete figure [on the real budget],” he concluded, hinting that the initial approximation might have been “underestimated.”

Following the suggestion that the final cost of the Central Library could exceed the MOP900-million-estimate, Tam clarified that: “We aren’t building a luxury library. The final cost can be more or less than the forecasted. We will do our best.”

According to Tam, a public tender for the project should take place during 2019, one year after the public tender for the conception project set for next year.

During the debate, several lawmakers maintained their position that the library should be constructed on a land reclamation site. Expressing this opinion were lawmakers Lau Veng Seng, Ng Kuok Cheong, Dominic Sio and Fong Chi Keong, among others.

However, Tam argued that there was a benefit to using the historical architecture of the Old Court Building in such a “landmark for the territory.”

“There are few buildings with these historical characteristics that we can use [for this project],” he said.

In defense of the government’s plan, lawmaker Mak Soi Kun expressed his opinion that the location is more than adequate. “We have nine schools in the area. There will be many people that could directly benefit from this,” he said.

As for the alternative locations proposed by several lawmakers, Tam said that the government “can build community libraries there” like others that exist in several parts of the territory. He stated that the Central Library has a different purpose.

“The Central library has the purpose of keeping the historical and important documents and collections and to be a living room and a place to [discover] new books, listen to music, hold conferences and much more.”

The discussion did not finish without a clear warning from Fong Chi Keong, the lawmaker known to represent the construction sector. “The project looks like a monster!” Fong exclaimed, warning that the “[Old Court Building] has structural flaws. The old wood piles [used in the foundations] don’t go all the way to the bottom,” so it will be very complex and expensive under the current plans, he said

In a final summary, Tam replied to Fong’s concerns saying that the government has concluded “satisfactory results” in the initial drillings to ensure that the building can be supported.

The secretary then concluded that the majority of the lawmakers agreed with the project, conceding only that he will continue to study the concept further.

Currently, according to the secretary, the Central Library will have 11 floors and constitute some 33,000 square meters.

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