Governor Narong made the announcement through a press conference broadcast this morning. Joining him were Phuket Vice Governors Phichet Panaphong and Vikrom Jakthee.
Also present were the new Chief of Phuket Cultural Office Chantana Sitthiphan, Department of Fine Arts architect Naruporn Saowanit, Phuket office of Public Works and Town & Country Planning Department (DPT-Phuket) chief Sommit Somboon.
Governor Narong briefly explained that the structure of the provincial hall is already complete, as anyone who has driven past it on the south side of Phuket Town over the past three years has long already known.
All that remains to be done to complete the building is the installation of “infrastructure” such as electrical and water supply fittings, and the finishing touches of painting and decorating the building, he said
A contractor has been found to finish the long-awaited structure, which is supposed to serve as the seat of government power for the province.
“The infrastructure installation was to be completed within 500 days, but we asked the contractor to hurry up to finish it in 210 days. Therefore, it will be finished in the same month with Lak Mueang [sic],” Governor Narong said.
The ‘Lak Mueang’ is a ‘city pillar shrine’, a traditional structure used by cities and towns throughout Thailand to serve as the symbolic “centre of the soul” of the community.
Phuket currently has four ‘Lak Mueang’ erected across the island, with the one built at Baan Muang Mai in Tambon Thepkrasattri, Thalang, currently serving as the provincial ‘Lak Mueang’ for the island, Ms Chantana explained.
The Baan Muang Mai ‘Lak Mueang’ was built under a project that began in 2010, she added.
The new ‘Lak Mueang’ will be built also at Baan Muang Mai.
“After construction of the [new] ‘Lak Mueang’ is finished, we will submit an invitation for The King to preside over the opening ceremony and anoint the pillar,” Governor Narong said.
It was not revealed how much the ‘Lak Mueang’ already completed in Baan Muang Mai cost to build, a point now relevant as its use will be replaced by the new ‘Lak Mueang’ nearly finished in the same village.
How much is being spent on building the new ‘Lak Mueang’ was also not revealed.
Mr Naruporn, the Department of Fine Arts architect responsible for designing the new ‘Lak Mueang’, explained that all provincial ‘Lak Mueang’ in the country must be similar to the main ‘Lak Mueang’ in Bangkok, the design of which follows design principles set out by King Mongkut, Rama 4.
“‘Lak Mueang’ in every province must have arches on all four sides and must be located on higher ground than the nearby roads and houses,” he said.
“I used the uniqueness and multiculturalism of Phuket to create the design of the shrine. The highest part of the shrine is similar to that of a lighthouse in order to represent that Phuket is an island, while the design of the main structure of the shrine is adapted from Chinese architecture,” Mr Naruporn said.
Instead of explaining why it has taken so long to build Phuket’s new Provincial Hall, Mr Naruporn chose to explain what had taken so long to build the shrine.
“To clarify why it took so long for the construction, we had to stop work on all of our works to focus on the construction of the crematory for the state funeral of King Rama 9,” Mr Naruporn said.
“We took one whole year to work on the crematory. We accept that the delay of the construction of the ‘Lak Mueang’ was made by us, not by Phuket officials,” he added.
“After we finished the crematory, we had to prioritise the pile of projects we still had to do, and do them one by one. So right now it is time to resume working on the Phuket ‘Lak Mueang’,” Mr Naruporn concluded.
No one else at the press conference offered to explain the delay in building the actual provincial hall.
Even Mr Sommit, Chief of the Phuket office of Public Works and Town & Country Planning, only added, “All the infrastructure of the shrine is 90-95%, complete. The decoration will be finished soon.”
V/Gov Vikrom only noted, “As we know, there are some houses located very close to the shrine [at Baan Muang Mai], so we have to negotiate with the house owners to buy or exchange the land with somewhere else in order to have some land around the shrine.”
The contract to build the new seat of provincial government, located on Thakreng Rd, near Rama IX Park, was signed on September 9, 2014. The site was chosen after the provincial government lost a drawn-out battle with Phuket Town locals who objected to the new complex being built on the tennis courts and football field close to the existing Provincial Hall.
After the new Provincial Hall is complete it will become home to over a dozen of official agencies, including the Provincial Labour Office and the Provincial Governor’s Office. The current Phuket Provincial Hall on Narisorn Rd, which is more than 100 years old, will be converted into a museum.
The new Phuket Provincial Hall will be big enough to provide seats to some 1,000 clerks. The administrative complex will have 295 indoor and 25 outdoor parking spaces for cars, 2 parking spaces for buses and 200 slots for motorbikes.
Construction of the new provincial hall stalled in 2017 after the contractor listed “lack of workers” as the reason for being unable to continue with the project.
Officials decided on “financial mismanagement” as the official reason for the project collapsing into disarray, though the “lack of workers” came immediately in the aftermath of a nationwide crackdown on illegally hiring migrant workers, especially those Myanmar, who coincidentally comprised the mainstay of labourers working on building the new Phuket Provincial Hall.
The initial contract to build the new Phuket Provincial Hall was budgeted as B450mn. However, in September last year it was confirmed that the budget had now blown out to B546mn.