The protracted reconstruction of Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, still reeling from a catastrophic 1988 earthquake, will be essentially completed as planned this year, government officials and a private contractor said on Thursday.
The assurances came as President Serzh Sarkisian inspected new apartment blocks built in two Gyumri suburbs founded following the calamity. He looked satisfied with what he saw but made no public statements afterwards.
The ongoing construction is part of a $250 million government program to build about 5,300 apartments and houses in the Shirak and Lori provinces that were devastated by the 1988 quake. It was launched in 2008 and is due to be completed by 2013.
In Gyumri, the capital of Shirak, about 3,000 new apartments are to be provided to people stilling in shacks and other inadequate housing. More than 1,000 homes were inaugurated last July at a ceremony attended by Sarkisian.
The ceremony was originally due to take place in December 2009. It was delayed after Sarkisian strongly criticized the quality of the construction work done by a private company Glendale Hills.
“After last year’s bitter experience we have drawn a number of conclusions, including personnel changes,” Urban Development Minister Vartan Vartanian told journalists. He said the government has also hired a private agency to better oversee Glendale Hills’s compliance with its housing standards.
Nevertheless, some apartment owners continue to claim that the construction was not done properly.
Vahe Almoyan, the Glendale Hills chief executive, dismissed their complaints. “It’s impossible not to have problems in 22 apartment buildings,” he said.
Almoyan also said work on the remaining 1,756 Gyumri apartments envisaged by the program will be finished by next September. “The construction is going according to plan,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Another source of complaints from Gyumri residents eligible for free housing is the size of the apartments. Many of these families have grown bigger since 1988 and now need more living space than they had before the earthquake. That is the reason why a large part of the newly built apartments are still empty.
“The ministry is discussing this issue and in the coming days we will propose a decision to government,” said Vartanian.
“We do realize that a family of five or six persons can’t live in a one-room apartment,” he added. “So we will find a solution to that.”