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Sunday, December 08, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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$2m to refurbish PNM’s Balisier House
Balisier House, headquarters of the People’s National Movement (PNM), is part of T&T’s rich architectural landscape created out of the days of colonialism. After more than five decades of occupation, the party has decided to refurbish the iconic building from where founder and first political leader Dr Eric Williams forged his legacy.
Located at 1 Tranquillity Street in Port-of-Spain, Balisier House is showing signs of its age. It was not the original home of the PNM—the party was briefly headquartered at the Hajal Building, located at 98 Queen Street, Port-of-Spain, from where the campaigns for the general election of September 1956, the federal election of March 1958 and the local government election in 1959 were conducted.
Balisier House was acquired sometime in 1959 and became the party’s headquarters in 1960, one year before the general election of 1961. According to the PNM’s Web site, the party obtained a deed of conveyance on May 14, 1961. The deed was registered as No 6045 of 1962.
Throughout most of the party’s long stints in political power—30 unbroken years under Williams and a another nine years under Patrick Manning—very little has been done to upgrade Balisier House and the landmark building is now in a state of dilapidation. PNM chairman Franklin Khan said it was regrettable that nothing was done to restore the historic building.
“One of the short comings of the former PNM is when it gets into power, the government no longer studies the party. Under the last government, the Prime Minister focused more on government business rather than party business. Even though we were in power for so many decades, little was done to preserve the legacy of Balisier House,” he said.
“Under Dr Keith Rowley, this is PNM under a new management. We see things differently and we will not make the mistake that when we get into power, we will forget party.” Khan said stopgap measures were put in place to safeguard Balisier House and in recent years, more than $200,000 has been spent on minor repairs. Party officials are now considering construction of a new $2 million wing to accommodate administrative staff and office space.
“We have some designs for a two-storey annex where we will have meeting rooms, conference rooms and a library. Those plans are before Town and Country Planning. Once we can get them approved, we will start construction next year.” Khan said the refurbishment will cost $2 million and the facade of the main building will be maintained. “We have to protect the colonial architecture of the building, so reconstruction of the main building will be a different project.”
He said the new annex will be L-shaped and will replace the buildings at the back. “The old colonial Balisier House will cost us millions of dollars to fix, once we focus on historical restoration and architectural designs. We are not going to bulldoze Balisier House and lose our colonial legacy. Too many historical buildings are being demolished.
“Balisier House is an iconic landmark, the historical antecedent of the PNM and under no circumstances will we demolish Balisier House.” Asked whether the building is in danger of collapse like President’s House, which fell apart on May 16, 2010, Khan said Balisier House has been deemed structurally sound by public health authorities. “It will not fall. We are doing structural repairs. We have a commitment that the PNM should be structured right and this includes boosting the image and the physical infrastructure of the party.”
Khan said the party is footing the bill for the refurbishment. “We have a financial policy in place where our membership uses raffles for donations. We will have a financing campaign like (US President Barack) Obama where our members make a maximum donation of $10,000.” He said a web-based financing system will come on stream next week so that people from the “PNM diaspora” who live in Miami, London and New York, can make contributions.
Khan said there are also plans to ask for assistance from organisations such as Citizens for Conservation and the T&T National Trust. He said Balisier House remains a hub of activity for the party’s 13 functioning committees. “We have five members who work full time. They deal with recurrent expenditure. All the officers are voluntary, we do press conferences, public relations, labour relations and constituency business and our staff work from 8 am to 6 pm.”
Khan said the new wing may be completed by the end of 2014. Former PNM minister Kamaluddin Mohammed, who served as Minister of West Indian Affairs under Dr Eric Williams in the late in 1967, said talk of repairing Balisier House started as early as 1986. Mohammed said he has not visited Balisier House for more than 20 years. “I don’t know what the conditions are now but I expect that it needs reconditioning,” he said.
The party’s PRO Senator Faris Al-Rawi said Balisier House is in desperate need of repairs and preservation of the historic building was important.
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