Value for Money Examination 11; The National Museum at Collins Barracks Summary


In December 1988, the Government decided to close Collins Barracks in Dublin as a military installation. Efforts by the Department of Defence over a number of years to sell the property for a satisfactory price failed. The Government decided in 1993 not to proceed with the sale and an interdepartmental group of officials was established to consider possible future uses for Collins Barracks.

It had been recognised for many years that the accommodation available to the National Museum was inadequate to allow it to fully discharge its duties. An Office of Public Works (OPW) study concluded that all the National Museum's requirements for extra accommodation could be met in a development at Collins Barracks at an estimated cost of ?65m. The Government approved in principle the development of a National Museum facility at Collins Barracks in September 1993 but instructed that the feasibility of providing not. more than ?35m from the National Development Plan 1994-1999 for a revised first phase of the OPW proposal should be examined.

Scope of the Examination

The examination of the Collins Barracks project sought to establish whether

  • the project was properly appraised and planned
  • the project is being managed efficiently
  • the first phase of the project has been completed on time and within budget
  • the second phase is proceeding according to plan.

Project Appraisal and Planning

The Collins Barracks project proceeded without the adoption of a long-term strategic plan covering all the essential elements of the project. Targets for project outputs were set only for the first phase of building work. Officials were aware of other project elements, like exhibition design, conservation and documentation of artefacts and recruitment and training of staff, but no clear targets were set for completion of such tasks and no overall project budget was set.

The factors which contributed to the absence of a firm project plan were ongoing uncertainty about the amount of funding which would be made available - for the first two and a half years of the project it was not known whether the amount of funding available for building and renovation work would be ?25m or ?33m

  • the necessity to undertake a significant amount of building work in 1994 to avail of Exchequer funding of LiOm which was available only in that year
  • an initial narrow focus of project planning on physical development of buildings (and directly related activities such as evacuation by military units) because the project emerged as a way of using Collins Barracks rather than as a solution to the National Museum's accommodation problems
  • the sanctioning of expenditure on the project in 1994 without the normal appraisal procedures for a capital project of this kind and scale having been carried out.

While no overall project budget was set, OPW drew up a number of suggested strategies to indicate how different amounts of funding for building and renovation work might be used and the type and quantity of accommodation which could be produced.

There is currently no clear view about what the ultimate overall cost of the project will be, or how it will be funded. Also, although the impact of the Collins Barracks project on staff levels and running costs of the National Museum will be very significant, it has not yet been fully established. Overall National Museum expenditure in 1996 is estimated at almost ?4.3m - an increase of nearly 80 per cent on the 1994 level.

Project Management

A number of groups representing the various agencies involved with the Collins Barracks project have acted in monitoring and steering capacities since the project started. No single group consistently undertook long-term strategic planning to the point where an overall project plan was adopted.

Currently, a working group representative of the main agencies involved in the project meets once or twice a month to oversee ongoing work and to consider project planning issues. However, no formal terms of reference for the group have been adopted. No single project manager has been appointed to co-ordinate all the separate elements of the project.

Outturn on First Phase

The eastern part of Collins Barracks was evacuated by military personnel in May 1994 to allow the first phase of building work to start. This required the installation elsewhere in Collins Barracks of prefabricated buildings for the evacuated units, relocation of the Barracks' communication centre and the construction of a new perimeter fence, involving total expenditure of ?750,000.

A contract for the first phase of building work for the Collins Barracks project was placed at a cost of ?8.3m and building work started on 1 June 1994. Together with design and planning consultants' fees estimated at ?1.5m, this contract was intended to facilitate expenditure of the bulk of the LiOm available in 1994. However, it was clear by September of that year that the work which could be carried out by year end would only allow f8m to be spent in 1994. A second contract, at a cost of ?1.9m, was agreed with the existing building contractor. This involved bringing forward from the second phase external renovation work on other buildings. The major work on both contracts was completed by April 1995.

The total amount of usable space available to the National Museum increased by 48 per cent following the first phase of renovation and building work at Collins Barracks. The new exhibition areas were inspected in February 1996 by a museum conservation expert. He concluded that the conversion of the buildings had been a resounding success.

Work on developing a suitable exhibition design for the renovated areas began in August 1994 but agreement between National Museum personnel and the design team on an overall museum interpretation had not been reached by September 1995. As a result, specialist design consultants were engaged to help.

The current target date for opening the inaugural exhibition in the galleries provided in the first phase of accommodation at Collins Barracks is March 1997. When the project started, the aim was to open some of the exhibition space to the public by May 1995.

The total estimated capital cost of the first phase of the new museum facility is ?15m. This includes expenditure on exhibition design and fitting out, estimated to cost around ?2m. The cost of conservation, documentation and transport of artefacts to Collins Barracks will be a considerable further project expense.

Progress on Second Phase

It was decided in July 1996 that overall funding for the building and renovation work for the Collins Barracks project will be ?28m. The work carried out so far has accounted for ?12.5m of that total.

It was originally intended that the second phase of building work would be completed by the end of 1999. However, given the current status of planning, the remaining building and renovation work will take up to five years to complete. Thereafter, further time will be required to complete the installation of an exhibition.

A functional brief for the accommodation to be provided in the remainder of the Collins Barracks project is currently being prepared. This brief and the experience gained on the first phase of the project should provide the basis for the compilation of a comprehensive project plan.