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Monday 27 January 2020
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President’s House move-in ready

AFTER: The newly-restored area.  PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB - ROGER JACOB
AFTER: The newly-restored area. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB - ROGER JACOB

President’s House is finally restored and ready for the country’s head of state to move in.

It’s up to her to decide when.

“We intend to hand over the keys shortly to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), who will in turn pass those keys to the President. When the President moves in is really up to her,” chairman of the Urban Development Company (Udecott) Noel Garcia told the media.

Heritage building restoration falls under a unit of the OPM. Udecott, the project lead, and contractor Unicom Ltd, handed over the keys to the OPM on Friday afternoon. The media, who had been invited on a tour of the building, were not allowed to witness the handover. But Garcia told reporters a more formal ceremony would take place eventually.

The project to restore the President’s House, one of the country’s most iconic historical buildings, was put on hold until March 2018, when Unicom was awarded the contract. The task was monumental, not the least considering that the first floor collapsed in 2010. The restoration budget was $89 million and scheduled to be completed in 18 months.

BEFORE: The western side of President’s House where the roof collapsed in May 2010. -

For the most part, Unicom’s Marcel Labban noted, the project ran on time and on budget. The only delay was caused by more structural damage that occurred during the 6.9 magnitude earthquake in August 2018, when the building’s walls, without the support of a roof, all but collapsed. Unicom’s engineers had to go back to the drawing board to make the building fit for purpose and then get the redesign approved by Udecott. That took about two months but, as Labban said, after waiting such a long time for the restoration to move forward, two months is a drop in the bucket. There were also minor cost overruns, he said, but nothing to raise eyebrows.

Architect and historical restoration consultant Rudylynn De Four Roberts, who was intimately involved in ensuring the accuracy of the restoration, said she was happy with the final product.

“I remember coming here the day after that collapse (last year) and I was in tears. Everybody was just so upset. And I am so happy and so pleased with how the building has been brought back.”

The damage was bad and a lot of parts had to be rebuilt. It was all very time-consuming.

“I want people to understand restoration takes time for us to get right. I think that the team understood that, and that is what makes this such a beautiful job. It’s not a restoration, it’s a rehabilitation, and it’s been brought back to contemporary use.

“It’s still a landmark building and would qualify as a landmark building with the National Trust. I think it’s an amazing job.”

There’s still some superficial work to be done, but otherwise, the President’s House is move-in ready.

As to whether parts will be open to public to tour, Garcia said that’s also a matter for the President to decide.

President’s House is the latest in a slew of historical buildings that have been restored and have been/almost ready to hand over the public, starting on Queen’s Park West with Stollmeyer’s Castle (Castle Killarney) last year and Whitehall in August. The Red House is scheduled to become the seat of Parliament once again in January. And, Garcia added, before Christmas, Udecott will have a surprise announcement to make about Mille Fleurs, also on the Queen’s Park Savannah.

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