When the roof of President’s House collapsed after heavy rainfall in 2010 there was little doubt the building had to be repaired. The sad sight of the collapsed structure felt like a symbol of the state of the nation: the president is a creature of and embodies TT's republican constitution. It had to be fixed.
Finally, President’s House has been reopened, after a restoration costing approximately $89 million.
But some critics feel the price tag is too high. In this instance, we feel the expenditure cannot be viewed in a vacuum and must also be appraised within the context of the building’s historical, cultural and long-term economic value.
We would always prefer it if things are done more cheaply. However, until such time as it can be shown that the renovation work could have been carried out at a more cost-effective price, this expenditure must be welcomed as an integral part of an ongoing heritage renaissance within the capital.
Though justified on its own terms, the repairs should also be viewed in the context of the historic district within which the structure falls – a stone’s throw away from Whitehall, Castle Killarney (formerly Stollmeyer’s Castle) and Mille Fleurs, to name a few. The renovation of all of these structures, as well as the Red House at the heart of the city, represents a decisive turn when it comes to the revitalisation of our long-depressed capital.
It is true there is an opportunity cost for all of these things. Money spent on these projects could have probably been pumped into healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The difference is, however, that taking care of our heritage sites is not just expenditure. It’s actually an investment in our future.
These buildings enhance the historic value of the capital and also deepen its claim to being a tourist destination. Revenue generated from tourism can mean more employment and more income to fund social programmes.
It’s instructive to turn to some of our Caribbean neighbours, such as Barbados and Puerto Rico, where historic sites have been leveraged to draw visitors.
Aside from the economic argument, it is also true that these buildings are of intense social importance, and that means they should not be lost. To preserve our history is not to suggest a wish to return to the old days of inequity and oppression. It is, rather, to remind us constantly of where we have come from as well as our own capacity to evolve.
It should be noted that preserving our heritage sites is not a matter exclusively within the public domain. The Catholic Church successfully restored the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and is raising funds to restore the St Joseph church, one of the country’s oldest. The Anglican Church is in desperate need of funding to save the Trinity Cathedral, weakened by the 2018 earthquake, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
There’s a long list of buildings on file at the National Trust.
We encourage these efforts to save our buildings and all they represent.