Some of the restoration which has taken place by the Jewish Synagogue in The City. (Picture by Xtra Vision Photography)
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NEARLY EVERYONE seems to agree that Barbados is notoriously poor when it comes to the maintenance of state property.
The evidence is there. It always is. Take the prevailing circumstances in and around Bridgetown.
We have the former Louis Lynch Secondary School building at Whitepark Road abandoned and now a derelict. Yes, there was much speculation and concern that the site may have been contaminated or that the operations of surrounding enterprises may have affected the building and those using it.
Well, the environmental experts don’t feel that the building was affected by any toxic material and the businesses and church surrounding the former school plant continue to operate, apparently unaffected.
So while some NGOs would have like to use the former school, it has been left there with no word of the next move from the Ministry of Housing, Government’s landlord.
Mute has also been switched on in relation to other buildings belonging to the state that have simply been closed up and left unused.
Take the case of the old General Hospital complex on Jemmotts Lane where the Emergency Ambulance Service was scotching for a while but had to leave after all the varied complaints from its staff.
Empire Theatre (below)
On the other side of the road on Bay Street is the old eye hospital, which has been talked about for many years as a site which private investors were ever so anxious to gobble up. Yes, it sits on prime beachfront real estate and would be the ideal location for some bustling business, particularly in the hospitality sector. But to date, all it has become is an eyesore and a place of rest for vagrants.
The story of the Carnegie Building, headquarters to the National Library Service, as well as the Empire Theatre, both well within in The City, tells how much we as a people value the two buildings which can only be described as heritage gems. The problems with both started decades ago and were systematically ignored over the years.
While the political parties cannot escape blame, a fair question to be asked is whether the technocrats tasked with giving guidance on the upkeep of Government properties have been relentless in carrying out their duties.
Even if such counsel was given, it certainly was not implemented in the case of, say, the first official residence of the Prime Minister at Culloden Farm or the former home of the Public Service Commission on Lower Collymore Rock.
Back in the heart of Bridgetown the former Supreme Court Complex, is now like the neighbouring headquarters of the library – abandoned. Then there is the vacant former National Insurance Building on Fairchild Street that some reports suggest may go to the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies as part of its City campus.
Carnegie Building (below)
But, given the financial circumstances the country faces and the constraints Cave Hill faces, including the almost $200 million the Government owes it , this plan may be not get further than being a plan.
This is not good for Bridgetown.
Unfortunately, the private sector has joined the “shut up and leave” even if there are for sale signs on some of the buildings, such as the former Plantations Limited building on Lower Broad Street.
The landmark one-time Mutual Society headquarters, also expected to be part of the City campus, is empty. Beckwith Mall is but a shadow of what it used to be and there are many other buildings across the City either empty or half-empty.
The restoration work on the old central police barracks off Tudor Street is therefore to be appreciated.
The upgrade to the Jewish Synagogue is absolutely magnificent. Businessman Sir Paul Altman who has been at the forefront of this initiative should take a bow. Perhaps he can lend a helping hand with cleaning up and restoring the neighbouring Montefiore Fountain (left) area. After all, the Montefiore Monument, as some call it, is there thanks to a prominent Jewish family who would forever want it to be a fitting and lasting memorial.
More importantly, this effort by Sir Paul, those of the Central Bank and the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. with the Church Village Green and the Constitution River rehabilitation project, should really act as the springboard for the true revitalisation of Bridgetown. Hopefully the plans for Roebuck Street being led by Sir Trevor Carmichael can become a reality soon.
It would be interesting to see and hear what plans the Bees, Dees, Solutions Barbados, the UPP and other parties and candidates put forward to help make Bridgetown a place where people will want to work, live and relax. Such plans should, of course, be costed with indications of where the funding will be sourced.