"Strategic Heritage Plan" calls for Palais des Nations restoration and construction work to begin in 2017
30 December 2013
Member States of the United Nations have decided to allocate 15.6 million Swiss francs for the planning phase in 2014 of the strategic heritage plan of the United Nations Office at Geneva. The General Assembly resolution on the issue was adopted on 27 December 2013.
Michael Møller, the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, welcomed the decision. “This resolution was adopted by consensus which shows that Member States understand the necessity of undertaking this work and the urgency of the issue,” he said. “The Palais des Nations is an important element of the heritage of Geneva and of Switzerland, but also of all Member States of the United Nations, and we have the duty to preserve and modernize it.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his report on the strategic heritage plan of the United Nations Office at Geneva (A/68/372), identified significant deficiencies of the Palais des Nations and confirmed that early adoption and diligent implementation of the strategic heritage plan was vital to urgently address health and safety risks and to ensure the long-term viability of operations and business continuity at the Palais des Nations. The Secretary-General highlighted in the report the 25-year cost-benefit analysis which showed significant long-term benefits to Member States, estimated to generate average annual cost savings of 20.68 million Swiss francs. He also noted that each year of delay implied an additional cost of 27.40 million Swiss francs because of the construction cost escalation rate.
The Palais des Nations, originally built for the League of Nations, is the largest United Nations conference centre in Europe and hosted 10,220 meetings in 2012. It comprises a historic building complex completed in 1937, expanded in the 1950s, to which a conference facility and office tower, the E building, was added in 1973.
The key objectives of the strategic heritage plan as proposed by the Secretary-General are to meet all relevant regulations related to fire protection, health and life safety, and building code compliance; to repair and update the building enclosure and the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems to meet relevant health and safety regulations, and to reduce energy costs; to meet all relevant regulations relating to persons with disabilities, including provisions for accessibility and technology; to optimize the use of the available interior spaces and conference facilities, providing flexible and functional conference rooms; and to preserve the heritage, prevent irreversible deterioration or damage, and restore and maintain the capital value of the Palais des Nations and its content.
Owing to a lack of space at the Palais des Nations, some 1,230 members of personnel of the United Nations Secretariat and staff members of liaison offices of United Nations funds, agencies and programmes, are currently accommodated in rented properties around Geneva. It is hoped that some can be accommodated within the Palais des Nations following the proposed efficient space utilization.
The strategic heritage plan comprises the construction of a new permanent office building, equal in size to the dismantled floors of the E building, to be initially used as swing space during construction; dismantling of the upper seven floors of the office tower, the only way to have an asbestos-free, energy-efficient building that is fully compliant with seismic, fire safety and accessibility codes; and full refurbishment of the conference space. The historic buildings would also be renovated.
According to the schedule of works of the strategic heritage plan of the United Nations Office at Geneva, the construction phase will start in 2017 and conclude in 2023. The projected cost is 837 million Swiss francs, over a period of 10 years. The General Assembly in its resolution adopted on 27 December approved an initial sum of 15.6 million Swiss francs for 2014, as part of the planning phase.
Switzerland, the host country, generously donated 50 million Swiss francs for the implementation of energy saving measures to be undertaken in anticipation of the strategic heritage plan. The related works currently being implemented include repairs to parts of the roof and some of the windows, optimization of lighting, installation of solar panels, replacement of certain ventilation units and upgrading of the building management system.