Drone video: the construction of the swimming pool in Pilisvörösvár has stopped, the wooden structure remains uncovered
The construction of the Pilisvörösvár swimming pool has reached a standstill, and it looks as if the previously revised completion date will not be met. The government’s swimming pool construction programme has been stalled by drastically increased construction costs during the state of emergency. When we called the phone number of the contractor in December, we were told that the work had been stopped. According to them, it is not a problem that the wooden structure is exposed because it is “treated”. The government is providing an extra HUF 176 million gross to ensure that the building does not remain uncovered. However, it is questionable whether the money will be enough to complete the project and when the facility can finally be handed over.
Almost ten years ago, in 2014, the National Programme for the Development of Public Education Infrastructure was launched, which includes the development of school swimming pools. The government was not bothered that the swimming pools planned in the first phase were not completed on time. In 2017, they announced the second phase, which will include swimming pools in another 26 municipalities. The sports facility in Pilisvörösvár is part of the second phase, but it remains to be seen when children will finally be able to splash in the pool.
The construction has been delayed since 2004
If someone wants to teach their child to swim in Pest County, currently they can only do it in the capital. Pilisvörösvár has been waiting for a sports facility for a long time. Back in 2004, the municipality’s governing body decided to create a municipal swimming pool and sports centre. A design competition was launched, which was won by Széll&Urbanek Kft. in 2006. The foundation stone was laid, but the construction was not completed.
In 2017, it was announced that Pilisvörösvár had been included in the second phase of the swimming pool construction programme. The swimming pool is no longer a municipal project but a public one. The mayor said in 2018 that the facility should be ready by June 2019. But as it turned out, this was an overly optimistic expectation, as in reality the public procurement had not even been launched by then.
The tender was announced in September 2019 by BMSK Zrt. In May 2020, the summary of the evaluation of the bids was published, which meant that Kova-Line Kft. had won the tender for the construction of the 1 300 m2 facility. This covers two pools, one 10×6 and one 25×15 metres. The swimming pool can be built for a net cost of HUF 806 million. (The public procurement notice was not published until February 2021, when the results were announced.)
The small company started construction with the help of subcontractors. WHB is a really big player, owned by Attila Paár, who bought István Tiborcz’s stake in Elios earlier.
Almost ten years ago, we were the first to report on the public procurement triumphs of companies owned by István Tiborcz, the prime minister’s son-in-law, in EU-funded projects. The so-called Elios scandal, one of the most high-profile corruption cases of the past few years were about contracts to install new street lights across the country. The contracts were worth €40 million, and were financed by EU funds. OLAF, the European anti-corruption agency sent the result of two years work to Hungarian authorities in 2018, recommending legal action over “serious irregularities” connected to the company. However, the Hungarian investigative authority and prosecutor’s office sabotaged the investigation, and the Hungarian taxpayers ended up paying the bill.
Work started in March 2021 and was expected to last until June 2022.
Construction stopped in December
According to locals, no real work has been done in the area for months.
We contacted the contractor in December on the phone number which is available on the website. We reached József Kovács, who confirmed the information that work had stopped.
“It cost us an extra 140 million forints to get this far. We think that there will be a state correction, but there is nothing for the time being, we need a government decision, which we don’t have yet.”
– The representative of the contractor told Átlátszó, adding that although negotiations with the investor are ongoing, there are no results yet. József Kovács is aware of several cancelled swimming pool and school projects, but refused to specify the locations. (The owner of the company is József Kovács Jr. , we probably spoke to his father.)
According to our source who has insight into the construction, the fact that the wooden beams are not covered is not good for the structure, but Kovács says there will be no problems because “the wood is treated”. The next step, by the way, would be to put the roof on, but that can only happen if they get the money. Kovács hopes that it will happen. Part of the reason for the delay may be that the BMSK has been dissolved and its tasks are being taken over by the Ministry of Construction and Investment, which belongs to János Lázár. We contacted the ministry but they did not respond.
The last time the contractor’s phone number was available for comment was in December. In the meantime, we found that the government had published a list of where the extra money would be spent for constructions in October (so before the interview). According to this list, HUF 1.3 billion instead of 1.1 billion will be allocated to the construction of the Pilisvörösvár swimming pool. The question is what the extra HUF 176 million gross will be enough for – if József Kovács’s statement that it cost them an extra HUF 140 million to get this far is correct.
Although the municipality of Pilisvörösvár has repeatedly promised to answer our questions, we have not received it until the publication of this article. According to the city’s official Facebook page, the municipality has started consultations to complete the swimming pool.
The delays started during the state of emergency
According to the procurement notice, the contract with the contractor was last amended in August 2022. The reason given was that a declared state of emergency due to the COVID-19 had delayed work. The pandemic significantly slowed down the administration of the various service providers. Substantial work on the site could start from the end of April 2021. In addition, construction material prices increased and procurement became more difficult.
According to the text, it became clear already in November 2021 that the original completion date was untenable, being extended by an extra 218 days. (The completion date is therefore 698 days from the delivery of the worksite in February 2021, which is almost two years.) A delay of just over seven months means that the deadline is now approaching or has already passed.
Swimming pools for children: the Orbán government’s slow-moving promise
The programme was part of Mr. Orbán’s election promises, with the Prime Minister saying at the opening of the first swimming pool that “the most important thing in the life of families, and therefore in the life of the country, are children”, and that he was, therefore, pleased to see the new investments being made.
In the first phase, swimming pools for children were planned in 25 municipalities, so confident were they that they even developed an interactive map to track the construction of the pools. At present, two of these pools are still under construction and one is under preparation.
Most recently, Átlátszó reported on the Octopus scandal, which involved unfinished second-round swimming pools. But behind the above-mentioned subsidies, which were increased in October, several swimming pools will only be completed with a postponed deadline.
“I’m being squeezed like a cigarette butt” – Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s kinship blamed by bankrupt subcontractors
Failed public projects, unpaid subcontractors, bankrupt companies – we have uncovered a case of suspected corruption involving half the country. The injured parties suspect that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is related to the main contractor, who has won the tender many times over, and the parties concerned and the Prime Minister’s press officer did not refute this claim when contacted.
In December 2021, Viktor Orbán mentioned the swimming pool construction projects as successes. According to the Prime Minister, since 2010, 35 swimming pools have been completed across the country, 43 are under construction and ten have been renovated – for a total of HUF 180 billion.
Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, Hungarian version of this article was written by Zsuzsa Zimre and can be found here. Cover photo: the torso of the Pilisvörösvár swimming pool (photo by our reader).