Another Borough Day with no town hall for Arima

Photo of the Arima Town Hall taken on June 28. - Photo by Joey Bartlett
Photo of the Arima Town Hall taken on June 28. - Photo by Joey Bartlett

IN 1888, Queen Victoria declared Arima a Royal Borough and as its annual year celebration approaches, for a fifth year, it is again left without its historic town hall.

The Arima Town Hall has faced significant delays in reopening since repairs began in 2019, but its closure is due to unresolved financial issues.

Arima was established as a Royal Borough on August 1, 1888, through a Royal Charter signed by the Governor of Trinidad, Sir William Robinson, and issued by Queen Victoria, making the borough 136 years old.

The council met in a colonial-style town hall on Sorzano Street until 1949, when it was rebuilt. The town hall has since seen several transformations at its original location. The modern, two-storey concrete building with large glass windows stands impressive and unsued.

Four years after repair work began on the building, it remains closed. The mayor and staff have since been relocated to a temporary office on Hollis Avenue.

Newsday spoke to former mayor Cagney Casimire on June 27, and he said the building is physically complete but has not opened due to final payment issues with the contractor.

"The building has been significantly upgraded with power, water, lighting, and solar lighting around it," said Casimire.

He did not disclose the original or current costs, saying he did not recall the figures.

Ground floor of the Arima Town Hall. - Photo by Joey Bartlett

"I have a figure in mind, but I don't know if it is correct."

Casimire told Newsday, "I know the contractor had some issues regarding additional payments. I don't know if that has been resolved or where that process has reached in terms of payment."

He said the building has been "significantly upgraded.

"It has water, lighting and solar lighting around the building."

Anthony Davis, councillor for Arima West/O'Meara, said in a phone interview on July 4, he believed the contractor suffered a heart attack and died, which might have contributed to the delays. Asked the contractor's name and company, he said he could not remember.

"This project cost millions of dollars, I cannot remember the exact figure, but I know it was millions."

Councillor for Calvary Jeniece Scott did not respond to questions about the impact of the closure on town meetings and council business when she was contacted via phone on June 26.

Former councillor for Arima North East Kendal Charles said the closure did not affect his service to his community.

"A councillor is supposed to be on the ground in his community speaking with the people," he said.

Efforts to contact the Planning Minister and MP for Arima, Pennelope Beckles, were unsuccessful. Beckles was contacted on June 25, 26, 28, and July 4. Messages were sent to her via WhatsApp about the construction timeline, budget and contractor, but remain unanswered.

Former mayor, MP for D'Abadie/O'Meara Lisa Morris-Julian, who initiated the refurbishment project in 2019, declined to comment.

“I don’t want to overstep. I am no longer the mayor, and while the project started under my tenure, I must respect the current mayor and his office.”

A visit to the town hall on June 28 showed the ground floor being used to store furniture and office equipment. The upper floor is furnished with brand-new chairs and tables, still wrapped in plastic and unused.

Current mayor Balliram Maharaj expressed frustration at the continued closure when Newsday visited his temporary office on June 28.

Maharaj was first contacted on June 25, and asked for questions to be sent to his communications person, Adanna Sween. She was sent a question about the state of the project and its cost via WhatsApp. Newsday also spoke to her on June 26.

Sween said the question was sent to the CEO of the Arima Borough Corporation, Cheryl Sirju-Chong.

When Newsday visited and spoke with Maharaj on June 28 at his office, he said the reason for the delayed response was due to Sirju-Chong being on sick leave.

In the meantime, the community of Arima continues to await the reopening of its town hall.

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"Another Borough Day with no town hall for Arima"

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