Fifty years ago, a building was constructed in Phuentsholing, which became one of the most iconic buildings in the town.
It is called the gol building (gor chim or round building). Today, it stands tall, strong, and still houses many families.
The six-storied edifice has lived up to its name and 100s of Bhutanese families have fond memories living in it.
The gol building will soon be a memory. It will be dismantled.
Demolition works will start anytime soon and finish by the end of this year under the National Housing Development Corporation Limited (NHDCL) initiative.
NHDCL’s managing director (MD), Thinley Dorji, said the main reason for demolishing the building is that its components do not meet the prevailing safety requirements.
“It was designed and built prior to the introduction of seismic codes in Bhutan,” he said.
Gol building was constructed in 1968 as a three-storied building. It was vertically extended to the existing height later. Initially, it had 65 residential and 20 commercial units but today it houses 53 tenants.
NHDCL office confirmed that the tenants staying there would be relocated to the newly constructed buildings near the Education Central Store, where six buildings are ready for allotment.
The construction of these six buildings started before the affordable housing project commenced.
“The relocation of gol building residents is considered a special case considering the safety of the tenants from fire, earthquakes and other disasters,” Thinley Dorji said.
For those 20 commercial tenants, the management would serve the vacation notice as per the prevailing allotment rules and regulations.
Meanwhile, inside the building, a group of women are chatting. They have come out at the corridor to get fresh air due to power outage and heat.
One of them, Sangay, 49, said she has heard about the demolition plan and the experience of living in gol building for seven years has been beautiful.
“Look at this corridor, it is like a playground for the children,” she said, adding that families bond well in the gol building.
Originally from Trashiyangtse, Sangay lives with her husband, a civil servant, and pays Nu 3,520 a month as rent today. “But we get really scared of the earthquake.”
In April 2015, when tremors were felt in Bhutan following the Nepal earthquake, many gol building residents stayed outside in the open through the nights. People are still paranoid.
The building’s caretaker, Ugyen Tashi, has also heard about the demolition plans but does not know the exact dates.
He said people would be glad to shift to other government quarters if provided.
The management of gol building has changed several times from drungkhag administration to customs and NHDCL. NHDCL took it over from the drungkhag in 2012. The building generates Nu 1.91 million (M) from residential rents a year and Nu 6.33M from commercial units.
A watch shop owner who rents at the building, Indrajeet Singh, from across the border said his father had rented the unit when it was Nu 125 a month. Today, he pays Nu 9,228.
“Administrations have changed several times,” he said, adding that it could be one reason the building didn’t see proper maintenance.
Although it is not pleasing news, Indrajeet Singh said the government would have the best of plans after demolition. His only worry is to get affordable rent to shift his business.
NHDCL has already planned and prepared a conceptual design for the new building in the same area. Thinley Dorji said the new construction would start by next year.
“This proposed building will be a landmark structure in Phuentsholing in terms of architecture, traditional features, aesthetics and function,” he said. “It will be used as an office and commercial purposes as per the Local Area Plan.”
NHDCL office has also stated that the form, profile and plinth area are not yet finalised and the planning and design are still in a conceptual stage. The actual cost of the new building has also not been estimated.
However, the indicative cost worked out based on the conceptual design is Nu 140M.
Meanwhile, considering the size and location at the heart of the Phuentsholing town, locals say it would be a herculean task to bring the building down.
“NHDCL will adopt a technique that is best suited to the location to have minimal disturbances and risk to the people and structures in the locality,” an official from NHDCL said. “Adequate measures will be put in place to avoid untoward incidences during the demolition of the building.”
Thinley Dorji said the demolition work would be tendered out and the work shall be awarded to the competent firm. “The cost of demolition shall be known only after all the formalities are completed.”
Meanwhile, it is evident that age has taken a toll on the gol building. Recently, a concrete piece of the building had fallen and struck a vehicle, damaging it severely.
Even trees have started to grow on the building walls.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing