Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Yesterday afternoon Hagop and I went to Stepanagert to take care of some work for the stone factory.

While there, we stopped into Vesta Electronics to pick up an electric teapot.

Hagop was looking at the satellite receivers and asking the salesman if their system would work in the United States?

Behind us was standing a man who almost looked like he was ease-dropping on our conversation and looked very western (meaning the way he was dressed and acted).

The salesman answered all of Hagop�s question as best as he could and said that the man standing behind us had a similar system and maybe he could add something that would help Hagop better understand how the system worked.

It was clear that this man had been in the US and later in the conversation we learned that he was the head architect on the new building that is being paid for by an Armenian-American donor. He introduced himself as Garen Hagopyan.

When I learned he was the architect, I began to ask him question about the building of every kind. He was receptive and answered them, volunteering additional information.

The building is 11 stories tall and has 50 units in all. They brought from Yerevan 4 new elevators. It has a central furnace for heating the building (though the radiators in the rooms are clearly old salvaged units).

Being in the stone business and having experience in construction, one of my biggest eyesores was the stairwells and hallways which instead of marble molding around the base of the wall to match the marble floors, they had put cement made molding that was already cracking and painted a very ugly shade of gray.

Garen told us that they were on a tight deadline and all winter they worked, ignoring the rain and cold. This was obvious since most of the outside walls had surface cracks and the paint was clearly applied when the walls were still moist and I�m sure once things heat up, it will start to peal. Garen said that when it peals, they will apply another coat.

Every unit has a kitchen with a small cheap sink. The bathroom looked nice with the cheapest $5 a square meter floor tile that I am sure will crack from it being installed using a lot of sand and the least amount of cement possible.

Every time I would point things out to Garen, he would tell me that I have to understand that this is much better than anything they have in Artsakh today and there are even government officials that would like to receive a house in this building.

The tin roof on this 11 story building is pitched instead of flat as you would expect, not to blind drivers when it reflects the sun or to allow the snow to slide off, but it seems that someone in Yerevan (not Garen) did this as there are two building side by side, one being smaller and the two roofs are suppose to look like mount Ararat. Very creative and very ugly if you ask me.

Anyway, why is Ara being so critical of this project? I mean is it not great that 50 new homes have been built for our people who are in desperate need of homes?

Well yes, it�s true that this is a fantastic project, but not for $650k from the donor and an additional who knows how much more money the government is claiming to have also contributed from the national budget (though I suspect their contribution when directly to their collective pockets).

If you do the math and if we just assume that only $650k was spent on this project to build 50 homes, that comes out to $13k per house. Also keep in mind that the average size was maybe 80 square meters (700 square feet). Another thing to keep in mind is that my house (which is 500 square meters) when finished will have cost me in all with furniture, swimming pool, Jacuzzi and huge enclosed yards with lots of trees, a whopping $30k!!!

I told Garen that it would have been better if they had built a small community of houses as I felt from my past experience in construction and costs of things here that they could have easily built 200+ house with roads and everything needed. He didn�t argue and just kept telling me that he is just the architect and it�s the President and the donor that are calling the shots on this project (though knowing the donor, I would guess it�s the President calling all the shots).

He also could not give me a solid cost of what this project is costing (though this is the architects job to know) as there were still things that were not decided and said that THEY keep telling him changes and the way THEY want things done. I asked who THEY are and he said the President. I asked him what the President knows about construction and he just said that he (Garen) is just a worker and takes orders.

I asked him about the division of the houses and the mayor�s involvement and he said that the mayor has nothing to do with this project and it will be the President and the donor who will divide the building. He added that the mayor with a party of 28 people came for the first time to see the building a week ago at the request of the President and did nothing but left the place a mess (I guess they had a party there or something).

One other thing he said as we left the building was that this building is only for the families of persons who were killed during the war and not all the people from the list the mayor has in his office.

So it seems that the building will be done in a month, at which time the President and donor will determine who will be among the lucky ones to get a place in the �Projects� (as Hagop referred to this eyesore of a building).

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