|Healing our capital's Heritage
Published Thursday June 3rd, 2010
I had intended to write
on the Heritage Buildings in our capital for some time, but the UDeCOTT
scandal and other public concerns kept me occupied. The recent shocking
collapse of a major part of President's House eventually acted as a
trigger for this article. As I said at the time, that was a shame and a
natural result of seriously misplaced priorities.
The present position of
the Heritage Buildings is one we can only make sense of by adding some
context. In my view, the background to the present situation is -
Economic Boom – We are at the tail-end of a 15-year-long
and unprecedented boom in our national revenues. No one could have
predicted the huge growth in national fortunes.
Construction Boom – There has also been a corresponding
boom in construction activity in our country with a large number of new
buildings erected in that period.
'Monumental Architecture' – Within that building boom,
there has been a series of new buildings which could be classed as a
modern thrust toward monumental architecture. That phrase is used here
to describe buildings which are long-lasting landmarks of a civilisation,
by virtue of their location, size and use. The recent examples of this
Monumental Architecture are Piarco Airport Terminal, NALIS (National
Library in POS), Prime Minister's Residence and Diplomatic Centre,
National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA, North), International
Some of the Heritage
Buildings in our capital have benefited from repair and renovation and
those would include -
QRC restoration – The main eastern building has now been
refurbished at a reported cost in the region of $44M. I have no
information as to whether that was within the budget or took too long,
but it is a welcome sight, especially when floodlit at night.
Knowsley restoration – This was done recently and the
program of works included the addition of a new block in the
south-eastern corner of the site. This building was formerly the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but they have recently moved to the
International Waterfront Centre. The expanded and renovated Knowlsey is
to become the new home of the National Museum, which is still at its
original location, the Royal Victoria Institute on the corner of Keate
and Frederick Streets – see
Former Shell Sports Club – This is at the corner of
Queen's Park West and Cipriani Boulevard and is now under Petrotrin.
The building was restored over a long period at what must have been
great expense and now that it has been completed about a year or so ago,
it appears to be unoccupied.
Police Headquarters – This is at the corner of St. Vincent
and Sackville Streets and was badly damaged during the 1990 coup
attempt. The building was repaired and renovated at great expense, but
is now showing signs of poor maintenance.
There have also been
these significant failures -
Mille Fleur – This is one of the 'Magnificent Seven' along
Maraval Road. It was leased to the Law Association, which was revoked in
2004 by the State when they did not carry out the required repairs. The
building was then placed under the control of UDeCOTT for repairs and
refurbishment, but there has been serious deterioration in its condition
and no sign of the necessary work
Stollmeyer’s Castle – This is the northernmost of the
'Magnificent Seven' and is also in poor repair; it is also said to be
under the control of UDeCOTT for repair and refurbishment. According to
UDeCOTT's website, both these projects were to have been completed in
'late 2008' - see
Boissiere House – This is on Queen's Park West, about
midway between All Saints' Church and Cipriani Boulevard. It is in poor
condition and was the subject of the “Save the Boissiere House'
campaign, which drew the State into negotiations with the property
owners. Those negotiations appear to have failed in terms of agreeing a
price and the building continues to deteriorate.
National Museum Building – The original Royal Victoria
Institute building is still in use and one hopes that it will not be
allowed to fall into disrepair.
The failure to repair or
maintain so many essential buildings is a tragic symbol of our disdain
for history and the simple sense of proper maintenance.
These are the Heritage
Buildings which really need urgent and high-quality attention -
Red House – This is the seat of our Parliament and it is a
true failure of repairs and maintenance. There has been an ongoing
repair/replacement of the Red House roof for at least 10 years. There is
an immense scaffold which is occasionally relocated and the project
literally seems to have no end. In addition to the roof repairs, which
were originally being undertaken by NIPDEC, there is an ambitious
program of Red House works set out on UDeCOTT's website at this
Our Parliament deserves a no less than a solid restoration job and a
proper maintenance program.
Trinidad Public Library – This historic building, at the
corner of Knox and Pembroke Streets, is in a sad state of disrepair. It
is in need of a serious program of repairs and renovation.
President’s House – The western wing of the official
residence of the Head of State of our Republic collapsed through lack of
maintenance. President's House is alongside the spanking-new, elaborate
Prime Minister's Residence and Diplomatic Centre, recently opened at a
cost in the region of $200M. This building has not been properly
maintained for a long time and it was shocking to hear Colm Imbert
stating to the media that it had been declared unsafe about 10 years
ago. Even the parts of the building which are still standing are now
also condemned. There had actually been official functions taking place
there up to the day before the collapse.
President's House has to be a priority project for high-quality
repair and renovation.
Afra Raymond is
Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and President of the
Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago. Comments can be sent to