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President’s House renovations at standstill
More than two years have passed since the collapse of a part of President’s House, but to date, no significant repairs have been done to the building. “Nothing significant. Scaffolding is up,” former Works Minister Colm Imbert told the T&T Guardian in response to questions. A galvanised roof went up in January this year. President George Maxwell Richards was asleep with his wife Dr Jean Ramjohn Richards in the cottage on the grounds on May 17, 2010, when the roof of President’s House nearby collapsed. Richard’s second term as President ends in April next year. Francis Joseph, adviser to Jack Warner, the former Works Minister, said work on President’s House started a few months ago and was ongoing. Told that since March 2011 Warner had said restoration work had started and, to date, nothing significant had been done, Joseph replied, “The minister does not normally follow a project every day. It’s the relevant department in the Ministry of Works. “Minister Emmanuel George (new Works Minister) has taken it over now.”
In March last year Warner said contracts had been awarded for the project. However, he was unable to tell reporters at the time to whom they had been awarded and what was the cost of the project. George seemed somewhat in the dark on the matter as well. Noting that he took up his new portfolio only three weeks ago and has not got his teeth into the President’s House project as yet, George said, “I know that some estimates were done to get a cost of the works. “All I know is that some work was started and stopped.” George assured that the restoration of President’s House was “on the cards to be done”—but warned that it would not be finished anytime soon. “It’s extensive work and cannot be completed in a short time.” Imbert found the delay “ridiculous.” He admitted, though, that there was always bureaucratic resistance when it came to spending money to restore historical buildings. “It’s really challenging for any minister. When I was minister of works I was always struggling with bureaucracy in getting funds to undertake the restoration of historical buildings. I got through with Queen’s Royal College. “But if Warner has boasted that he will restore President’s House, he ought to make good on his boast.”
Imbert said the President and his wife have been staying in the Cottage, a luxurious building renovated around 2004, at a cost of millions of dollars. Architect on the project, Bernard Mackay, said the restoration of President’s House had “been going on for ages.” “Design work commenced in 2003 and stopped in 2006.” He said there were several collapses since until the last one in May 2010. Mackay said he was not at liberty to say too much but noted that, as a concerned citizen, he would like to see the project restarted. A stiff response came from the Office of the President when asked for an update on the renovation of President’s House. “I cannot give an update,” information officer Michaella Frederick said. Asked if she could not see what was going on, she said scaffolding was up and referred the T&T Guardian to the Ministry of Works. Lenore Dorset, executive assistant to the President, said Richards and his wife had been living in the cottage even before the collapse of the roof of President’s House. At the beginning of his term, they lived at their Maracas Valley home, she said. According to the President’s House Web site, Richards takes a five-minute walk each morning from the Cottage to the Office of the President, the first building on the compound inside the gate. He goes back to the Cottage for lunch unless his workload is heavy, in which case he eats at his office. Functions like the national award ceremony which used to be held at President’s House are now held at Knowsley on Queen’s Park East, the former Foreign Affairs Ministry. Dorset said that has not been a problem.
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