Heritage at Risk – Parliament Building Still Derelict

Disgusting Shame

The Parliament Building, February 2012

In many countries, there exists some building that is a national symbol. As such, the preservation and well being of this symbol is fiercely protected. For Grenada, that building should be The Parliament Building, York House.

Yet today – eight years on, The Parliament Building languishes in a state of uncertain future. Because no steps have been taken to mitigate against continued damage due the loss of the roof in Hurricane Ivan, the building is rapidly being rendered an unsalvageable ruin.

As the entrance doors flap in wind, they open and shut to reveal extensive deterioration and destruction of the internal structures and decorative details of the building. 

The upper floor is collapsing unto the lower, with valuable materials needed for the rebuilding of the Parliament Building, including joist, studs, and carved elements, falling out of the building into the court yard.

Looking at the building from street level, it is clear that the upper floor is now a shell. But the Parliament Building was largely intact after Ivan, except for the damage to the roof, windows, and a small area of bricks that were dislodge as a result of the disturbance to rafters.

While the majority of galvanized panels were blown off and the rafter system affected, a good amount of the rafters, including the decking boards. remained in place. The significance of this is that the

Parliament Building, February 2010

remaining rafters offered the opportunity to quickly erect temporary roofing for The Parliament Building, in order to arrest any further damage to this important Grenadian Heritage site. But for some reason, this was not done. Why?

After all, this was not a difficult engineering challenge exacerbated by unstable walls – proven by the fact that the building continues to stand today, even though its internal supporting structures are allowed to rot. The simple solution would have been to collect as much of the blown-off galvanize sheets as possible, prop up the surviving rafters and build temporary rafters where none existed, and then proceed to cover the building using the collected and new galvanized sheets, and board up all broken windows.

In the long term, since Grenada lacks a skilled labor force with expertise in the restoration of 18th and 19th century architecture, it would have been, and still is, prudent that expert

consultants be brought in to assist in the restoration, and help in building a core of workers with the skills needed for the maintenance and preservation of The Parliament Building and other Grenadian heritage sites – and there are many.

Were these simple steps taken, the conversation today regarding the future of The Parliament Building would be a whole lot different. Instead, Grenadians are facing a real possibility that a national symbol, that should stand to represent the strength of the nation, will crumble to rubble. Shame!

Other steps that should and must be taken are:

  • the assessment of a $1US surcharge on all visitors to Grenada, that will go directly to a fund for the rebuilding of the capital.
  • Ongoing fund raising and appeals to large corporation and foundations, wealthy individuals.
  • Continuous involvement of the Grenadian diaspora for both cash donations and contribution of labor and knowledge.
  • Development of a foreign exchange program that send Grenadians to foreign countries with rich preservation cultures, while creating a host program that enables foreign skilled workers to come to Grenada cheaply, and train Grenadian workers.

Because of the lack of mitigating action, the cost to restore The Parliament Building has grown astronomically. Where in the immediate period after Ivan, the work would have entailed restoring the roof, repairing broken windows, replacing

View of the Destruction Through the Front Door

dislodged bricks, and addressing water damage, today, because of 7+ years of neglect, a complete gut jobs is likely needed, with a high likelihood that the historic interior of the building will be lost forever (It is rumored that Trinidad offered to rebuild The Parliament Building in the early days after Ivan, but the offer was refused).

There have been reports that the US and Australian government would assist with funding for the building of The Parliament Building. These report go back to 2007/2008, and yet to date, there are no sign of movement to begin work.

Surprisingly, the government has gone forward with two projects in the town that raises questions about their priorities and commitment to fiercely protect Grenada’s national symbols. The pavilion being constructed above Sendall Tunnel and the work being done on market square are two projects whose funds would have been better spent in repairing sites like The Parliament Building and Fort George.

While there is value in the eventual restoration of the market square, this could have waited, And the pavilion above Sendall Tunnel is silly. It will create a sitting area so tourist can gather and gaze upon all the dilapidated and falling buildings in the town – a few located immediately in front or next to it. This is clearly an example of screwed up priorities. As, one would think that first you fix the view before creating a place to see it.

St. George’s stand at the precipice of losing its historic character. The ramifications have already started to manifest themselves, as it was reported that some cruise ship operators were looking to cut the number of calls to Grenada. The neglect of national symbols, like The Parliament Building, has economic consequences. This shouldn’t be a surprise for a nation that so heavily depends on tourism.

Tourists travel to experience culture and history. National symbols like The Parliament Building are important in telling the story of a people (if walls can talk…). They define the past and help give definition to the future. National symbols are an example of a nation’s strength. What does it say about Grenada that after almost eight years, it has not devised any apparent solution for repairing one of its most important national symbols? But instead, is allowing it to fall to the ground.

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