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Race against time to restore City Gate’s Triton Fountain

Joint venture awarded a direct contract to complete a two-year job in 11 months

The iconic Triton Fountain whose restoration has been in the offing since 2011. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The iconic Triton Fountain whose restoration has been in the offing since 2011. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

With the Valletta 2018 events looming on the horizon, a joint venture has been awarded a direct contract to restore the iconic Triton Fountain in just 11 months, even though the project was originally meant to take two years.

A spokeswoman for the Infrastructure Ministry told The Sunday Times of Malta that on January 12 a contract was signed with Sea Fountain One.

“Excluding unforeseen circumstances, both parties are confident that the restoration shall be completed prior to January 2018,” the spokeswoman said.

This project has always been high on the government’s agenda, she said, adding that over the past few months the government had been involved in technically complex negotiations with the joint venture.

The Triton Fountain restoration has been in the offing for six years. It forms part of a larger embellishment project comprising the City Gate Ditch, the pedestrianisation of the old bus terminus and the area around the RAF memorial known as Il-Biskuttin.

Works have started on these areas but the fountain is yet to be touched.

The spokeswoman noted that the restoration would be proceeding “in tandem” with the rest of the works to be ready in time for next year when Valletta will be hosting a series of events in connection with its European Capital of Culture status.

Despite the reduced timeframe, the ministry insisted that none of the original plans it had listed in a method restoration statement issued for prospective bidders in 2015 would be sacrificed.

The joint venture carrying out the works shall be committing the necessary resources

“The joint venture carrying out the works shall be committing the necessary resources such that a comprehensive restoration as prescribed by the restoration method statement is undertaken,” the spokeswoman said.

Plans to bring this landmark back to the way it once looked have been in the pipeline since 2011 but the project has been dogged with delays. In November 2015, a pre-qualification questionnaire was issued by the Contracts Department for prospective bidders interested in the daunting task of repairing the damage caused by years of neglect, misuse and haphazard interventions.

Trident Joint Venture, The Fountain Workshop Limited, Fonderia Artistica Ferdinando Marinelli and MT.R Contracting Limited had made submissions but none of them were deemed to be “administratively” compliant.  Consequently, the tendering process was cancelled. At the time, the ministry said that a fresh call would be issued.

With the clock ticking, this option was abandoned in favour of a “negotiated procedure” with a joint venture which was considered the best qualified to do the job out of the four bidders. This option was taken up by virtue of a special clause in public procurement regulations and is only permitted when the time limit for open, restricted or negotiated procedures cannot be respected for reasons of “extreme urgency occasioned by unforeseeable events”.

Last October, a ministry spokeswoman had told this newspaper that the contract would be signed within a month, while the identity of the joint venture in talks with the government was not disclosed.

Apart from the fact that two more months were lost as the signing only happened last week, it has now transpired that none of the failed bidders were named Sea Fountain One.

Asked for a clarification on this matter as well as the value of the direct contract awarded, no reply was received from the ministry by the time of writing.

What will the restoration involve?

These are the main points listed in a method statement issued in November 2015, for an ambitious restoration job that was originally meant to take two years:

• The three bronze triton figures to be disassembled, taken to a foundry for restoration and be patinated in azurite blue, as in their original state in 1959.

• Removal of the incongruous central pillar to restore the fountain to its original design, which will probably need a new basin on top.

• Reinforcement if necessary of the concrete base underneath the tritons, plastic piping and widening of the access shaft to facilitate maintenance.

• Cleansing of the travertine components and the realignment of the largest slabs which have been displaced over time.

• Repair and install new water fittings to recreate the original effect.

• Install specialised UV filters to ensure water remains clean and a wind control system to reduce water pressure automatically in case of strong winds.

• Install the original illumination pattern possibly using LED lights and rope lights around the fountain’s circumference.

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