Lawmakers, Culture Ministry clash over construction of new Legislative Assembly facilities

April 1, 2014

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday Costa Rica’s Culture Ministry issued a press release confirming they will not approve construction permits for a new complex that would have housed the Legislative Assembly in downtown San José. The statement confirms a previously ruling on the issue last month.

In a 16-page resolution, the ministry responded to an appeal filed by Novotecnia, the construction company awarded the contract in a public bid, saying the project’s current design threatens historic patrimony, as concluded by the ministry’s Heritage Conservation Center in February.

The statement refers to the Assembly’s main building as well as two older structures known as La Casa Rosada (The Pink House) and El Castillo Azul (The Blue Castle), both nearly 100 years old and built using a system of construction known as bahareque, which uses mud and bamboo. Construction could damage the three buildings, the report stated.

The document also notes that the visibility of these and other nearby buildings such as the National Museum “would be affected by the new structures.”

But lawmakers moved fast, and at 4 p.m. the Assembly’s directorate convened a press conference to announce they had drafted a bill to remove the architectural heritage status of all buildings, which would allow them to proceed with the project without requiring permission from the Heritage Conservation Center.

Assembly President Luis Fernando Mendoza said the initiative had “the support of enough lawmakers for its approval,” and that it would allow them to expedite the construction of new facilities at their current location.

Assembly Executive Director Antonio Ayales said the ministry’s report was “subjective and originated from the fact that they [the Heritage Conservation Center] were not taken into account during the project’s planning.”

“This Assemly has faced four eviction orders from health officials, and those orders were not fulfilled precisely because the Attorney General’s Office ruled that one branch of the republic was unable to issue an order to an agency in a different branch. How could they ask us to leave these buildings and then forbid us from building a new one?” Ayales barked.

Culture Minister Manuel Obregón fired back that the ministry’s decision was based on current legislation that clearly outlines that “all national, tangible or intangible heritage must be protected over any public or private interest.”

Construction of new facilities for lawmakers is a project that has been under discussion for eight years. Two years ago, President Laura Chinchilla’s administration signed a trust with the state-owned Bank of Costa Rica for almost $90 million to move forward with the current project, which initially was scheduled to begin in February.

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