By Jaswinder Kaurnews
KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA: When the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's 10-storey tower block was built 27 years ago, sea sand containing shells and corals were used for an unknown reason.
Today, use of the unconventional building material has come back to haunt the authorities as the chloride or salt content had corroded the steel bars in the reinforced concrete used for the building.
This has led to the building reaching the end of its life-span in half the time it should have stood.
This is the finding of Kumpulan Ikram (Sabah) Sdn Bhd which was engaged by the Public Works Department to carry out an appraisal on the block which housed 262 beds until the last patient was shifted to nearby hospitals more than two weeks ago following a directive from the Health Ministry.
Ikram Sabah executive director Vincent Tan said the tower, and the nearby forensic and boiler rooms, were built in the late 1970s during a construction boom in Sabah when there was shortage of material, skilled labour and contractors.
Tan said 13 tests, including a microscopic analysis of samples conducted in Singapore, showed that unwashed sea sand containing shells and corals was used to build the tower.
He said the chloride content in the concrete was very high.
"You cannot see the damage clearly from outside but the steel bars inside the concrete have corroded.
"The building is like a 'time bomb'. It is a sick person who doesn't know he is sick.
"This building should have lasted at least 50 years. The building has a high level of premature deterioration."
Tan said a total of 94 samples were tested for chloride content with 76 per cent exceeding the permissible level.
"Of course the permissible level we are using is a standard that was used as a yardstick in 1985, several years after the tower was built (in 1981). This finding is consistent with the use of sea sand in concrete," he said at a public forum at the hospital yesterday.
The Sabah Health Department organised the forum to give the public a chance to get first-hand information on why the ministry had to evacuate patients and critical services to other government hospitals.
The ministry is also renting services, including operation theatres, at two private hospitals in the city.
The study traced the consultant and architect of the tower block to firms in Kuala Lumpur which have since lost the drawings, leaving Ikram to come up with its own charts.
Tan said the contractor was from Sabah but he died several years ago.
He said the study which began on Aug 6 and ended with a report to the ministry and the PWD three months later, concluded that it would be best to demolish the tower block and the forensic and boiler rooms.
The appraisal found that it would cost RM23.76 million to carry out structural repairs and that the option of demolishing and reconstructing would cost RM820,000 more.
"The option of repair work and the other recommendation to demolish and rebuild do not include cost of mechanical and electrical work and to move services to other areas.
"Though repair work is 3.45 per cent cheaper than demolishing and reconstructing, it will not restore the building to its faultless condition."
Tan said it would take about two years to 30 months for either option but in the case of repair work, it would eventually need to be maintained.
"Another extensive appraisal would need to be done in five years."
Tan said it would be more beneficial to rebuild the tower as the new structure could include a design to make it earthquake-resistant to withstand tremors.