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Owner of Greyfriars: Toxic roof removed from church hall

Published: 
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The historic Greyfriars Church of Scotland, Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, where work came to a halt after the contractor was served with a stop order on Tuesday. At left is the church hall after the roof was removed. The church is at right. PHOTO: ROBERTO CODALLO

Reports that the Greyfriars Church of Scotland on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, was being demolished on Tuesday are false, says the owner, Alfred Galy. In an interview yesterday at his Frederick Street office, Galy said everybody had “jumped the gun” and said the building was being demolished but he was still waiting for an engineer’s report to determine the future of the property.
Galy did not rule out demolition but said if the engineer’s report indicated the structure was good and could be fixed, he was willing to fix it.

A crew of workmen who appeared to be doing demolition work was told to stop and vacate the premises on Tuesday because they were operating illegally. The stop-work order was delivered  just after noon by the chief building inspector at the City Engineer's Office, Deoraj Ramtahal. 
Galy said all work had stopped but added he would notify the corporation so that work could continue. 
Asked what kind of work was being done which required the roof of the adjacent church hall to be removed, Galy said the building was being assessed and that was part of the process. 
“The roof was toxic. Imagine a toxic, asbestos-filled roof in the city,” he added.

He said he would have an engineer look at the building and a report would be completed about a week later.
 “If the engineer’s report says the problems with the building can be remedied then we will remedy it, but if not, I am looking at all of the options,” he said. 
There were no workers at the site yesterday and the yard was full of pieces of wood pried from the roof, so the interior of the church hall was exposed to the elements. 
The church, which is 176 years old, was renovated in the past but the Church of Scotland was unable to maintain it and it has been closed for several years. It was deconsecrated before being sold to Galy this year.

After reports of the sale there were calls for the building to be preserved, coming from groups, such as Citizens for Conservation and historian and T&T Guardian columnist Angelo Bissessarsingh.
But Galy said change was inevitable and pointed out that despite all the reports in the media over the future of the property, no one had approached him for a meeting about which direction planning for it should take. 
“They talk to the newspapers but nobody has approached me and I am willing to listen to sensible suggestions,” he added.

No National Trust in place
There are plans for Greyfriars to be listed as a historical site by the National Trust. 
But the National Trust does not, at the moment, have a functioning board. Though one was appointed by Cabinet last week it is not expected to be installed until next week. 
In an interview yesterday, Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration Rodger Samuel said Greyfriars was going through the process of being listed and protected as such, along with other similar buildings. 
“We continue to work on getting it listed but it is a long process and it has to go through the Ministry of Legal Affairs,” said Samuel.

Asked if any special attention was being given to the building, he said the process had already started and ensuring the building was added to a list of historic buildings under the National Trust was a priority. 
Pressed further, Samuel said he would be meeting with staff at his ministry to discuss future interventions. 
He added: “We were there yesterday when the city corporation issued a stop notice to the owner. We are aware that there were plans to make Woodford Square a heritage block and we are working tremendously hard to find a solution.”

The proposed heritage block will include the Red House, which has been awaiting renovations for approximately a decade, the deteriorating former library and the Trinity Cathedral. 
In its 23 years of existence, the National Trust has given 15 buildings protected status, with a list of over 430 buildings waiting to be added.