Beleaguered Escazú Supermarket to be Reconstructed

February 18, 2005

RESIDENTS of Escazú, west of SanJosé, may wonder whatever happened tothe giant Hipermás supermarket, just offthe highway at the entrance of Escazú,above the Tiribí River.It was first scheduled to open in late2003, but landslides and complicationshave plagued the project since then.According to Aquileo Sánchez, directorof communications for the CorporaciónSupermercados Unidos (CSU), his companyis hoping the beleaguered Hipermáswill finally open in 2006.The owners of the building, ImobiliariaMarginal del Este (IME), first obtained thenecessary permits for its construction in2002 and began work in January 2003.THEN, in November 2003, as CSUannounced the grand opening of anHipermás in Escazú, two landslides on thenorth side of the building delayed theopening and raised questions about thestructure’s overall safety.As a result, building owners designed aplan to rescue the site and structure, enlistingthe help of North American firm ThorntonTomasetti Engineers, a company that boaststhe Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia – two of the tallest buildings in theworld – among its projects.The firm built what it said is the largestretaining wall of its kind in Costa Rica,measuring 110 meters long and between 2and 14 meters tall, and removed unstableland beneath the structure, which requireddeconstructing part of the building (TT,April 2, 2004).ACCORDING to Sánchez, the buildingitself partially sunk into the groundbecause of the landslides, and because ofcomplications IME eventually was forcedto demolish most of the building.“After a series of technical actions tosave the building, it had to be taken down,”he said. “It has been a complicatedprocess, but we hope the supermarket willopen its doors next year, once it has beenrebuilt,” Sánchez told The Tico Times.IME, Thornton Tomasetti Engineersand CSU have gone back to the drawingboard. The land changed so much becauseof the 2003 landslides and the sinking ofthe building that plans for a new buildinghad to be drawn up, and IME must nowobtain construction permits all over again,from the Environment Ministry’s NationalTechnical Secretariat (SETENA) and theMunicipality of Escazú.TO guarantee safety, the structure hasbeen stabilized by the removal of unstablesoil from below the building and the creationof an underground parking lot with afoundation in the stone layer of the site, aswell as the retaining wall. IME plans toreforest the damaged area once the buildingis complete.According to IME engineer MarcelaTorres, a third of the building is in place andwell supported. The original structure was110 meters wide and 70 meters long, but shecould not say what the dimensions of thenew building would be, except that it will beslightly wider. They also will reuse as muchof the old material as possible.IT is estimated another $2 million mustbe invested in the rebuilding, on top of the$4 million already spent on the initial construction,according to IME representatives.Both Torres and Sánchez say it is difficultto determine how much IME andCSU have lost because of the landslidefiasco.“We are proud of the responsible andtransparent way we have worked, as wellas our priorities, which have remainedconstant from the beginning: focusing onthe security of future clients and workers,the site and the protection and recuperationof the area from an environmentalpoint of view,” Torres said.

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