UNLIKE the soil beneath a new Hipermás supermarket under construction in Escazú, west of San José, representatives of the Corporación de Supermercados Unidos (CSU) are firm in their convictions that the huge store will open next year.
After two landslides on the north side of the building in November delayed in the store’s opening and raised questions about the structure’s safety, the building’s owner, Inmobiliaria Marginal Este (IME), designed a plan to rescue the site and building.
The result will be the largest retaining wall of its kind in Costa Rica, according to IME representative Rodrigo Calvo.
It also involves consultations with an engineering firm that boasts the PetronasTwinTowers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, among its projects, according to CSU corporate communication manager Aquileo Sánchez.
IN addition to the construction of a retaining wall 110 meters long and between 2 and 14 meters tall, the builder is removing unstable land beneath the structure and creating a supportive basement.
Completion of the project – located just off the highway at the entrance of Escazú, above the Río Tiribí – should happen by the first trimester of 2005, Calvo said in an e-mailed response to Tico Times questions. However, efforts are being made to finish this year, he added.
A Swiss-Spanish consortium, Swissboring, is building the wall. Further contributing to the international effort is the North American firm Thornton Tomasetti Engineers, who is reviewing the plans to stabilize the building.
The firm worked on the construction of the PetronasTwinTowers, which at 1,483 feet are two of the tallest buildings in the world.
“I think people are going are going to understand and appreciate that the corporation has acted responsibly,” Sánchez said.
“Customers will understand that this same attitude of responsibility will be applied to the rest of the store.”
Sánchez said it is difficult to determine how much CSU has lost in the delayed opening of the Hipermás, which will be the fourth of the Costa Rican chain.
“The big loss is the opportunity cost, we missed the Christmas season, we’ll miss Semana Santa (Easter Week), Mother’s Day…” Sánchez said.
CSU has already hired more than 400 people for all levels of staffing at the new store.
The initial cost of the project was $4 million, according to Calvo. This included construction of the building, paving the area, exterior lighting and landscaping. Construction of the retaining wall is expected to add up to $2 million to the cost.
BESIDES the retaining wall, the structure will be stabilized by removal of unstable soil from below the building, which requires deconstructing part of the building.
An underground parking lot with a foundation in the stone layer of the site will be constructed and the building rebuilt on top. The weight of the building will then rest upon the rock, according to Calvo.
Stabilizing the building is only the first step in mitigating the effects of the November landslides. Once construction is complete, IME will begin an environmental recovery, Calvo said.
In December, IME sent two proposals for environmental recuperation to the Environment Ministry’s Technical Secretariat (SETENA).
Plans include removing the danger of future landslides – which is being done with the basement and retaining wall, removing the land that fell into the ravine in November to clear obstruction of the river, and reforesting, Calvo said.
“IT is necessary to reforest the damaged area, to replace the vegetation cover that would have existed,” Calvo explained.
SETENA will not approve the reforestation plans until everything else is complete, according to Calvo. Other than the retaining wall, none of the environmental recuperation can begin until the stabilizing effort is finished, he added.
“The mitigation works that are happening require the movement of people and machines that are not exactly the optimal conditions for starting the recuperation,” he explained.