The Rrogozhine Cultural Centre, an example of Socialist Realism architecture has been saved from its fate of demolition.
The Cultural Centre was built in the 1970s and was considered state-of-the-art communist architecture at the time. Today, it is in need of repair but is regularly used by school children, Municipality employees, and for events.
After the November 2019 earthquake, the local Municipality started making plans to demolish it claiming it had been damaged. Engineers were brought in from the Construction Institute to conduct a quick survey and sign it off as irreparable. Exit previously revealed that they managed to ascertain this without conducting a forensic examination.
Investigations by Exit also found that they were two of the same engineers who signed off on the demolition of the National Theatre and have complaints filed against them with the Prosecution for “abuse of office”. Olsi Nunaj and Elbarina Kola are accused of failing to carry out a proper inspection procedure on the National Theatre and for coming to a false conclusion that the Theatre was an unsafe structure.
The news of the project sparked controversy as some 150 Rrogozhine families are still homeless following damage to their properties during the November 2019 earthquake. Many are living in tents, temporary structures, or remaining in unsafe properties and living on donations and aid. The project that would cost millions was unpopular, not just because it would destroy local heritage, but because many thought the priority should be homing local residents first.
Because of the media attention and the wishes of the local people which was that the cultural centre is repaired and preserved, the Municipality decided to withdraw from the project. An individual working for the Municipality confirmed the news with Exit.
While the building is indeed in a state of disrepair, Laim Halili, the foreman that oversaw its construction said it was built carefully and designed to withstand the test of time. He said the whole construction process was carefully monitored and he did not believe that it was unsafe, much less significantly damaged by the quake.
Another architect Exit spoke to who had inspected the building said there was zero damage to structural elements and masonry and that any damage was purely cosmetic. He added that if authorities were intent on demolishing it because it’s unsafe, it would require a full seismic study to ascertain whether this was the case. Due to the rushed nature of the process and what appeared to be a false declaration that it was unsafe, he believed it was a way to funnel reconstruction funds to a project that would be awarded to a “favoured construction company”.
Exit also revealed that despite the Municipality saying it was “unsafe”, a Socialist Party meeting had been held inside the venue recently, against social distancing measures.
Following the death of the Mayor of Rrogozhine last year, Minister of Reconstruction Arben Ahmetaj took over the role as Mayor. In his role, he is “exclusively in charge of coordinating all local and international institutions related to the (reconstruction) programme.” This includes designating funds and overseeing reconstruction projects.
Locals feared that money meant to rebuild the homes of homeless families in the area would be used to demolish and rebuild the cultural centre needlessly.