Udecott: National Museum to get upgrade

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FILE PHOTO: The National Museum and Art Gallery, 117 Frederick Street, Port of Spain. –

THE National Museum and Art Gallery, built in 1892 as the Royal Victoria Institute, will soon enjoy a much-needed renovation, according to a paid advert in Tuesday’s newspapers, as later confirmed to Newsday by Udecott CEO Noel Garcia.

In the advert, Udecott invited “suitably qualified and experienced entities to submit proposals for the provision of modified design-build services for the restoration and upgrade of the National Museum and Art Gallery,” located at the top of Frederick Street, Port of Spain.

The successful contractor will be chosen by a competitive selection process set out in the request for proposals (RFP) document, which was due to be available on Tuesday, at a cost of $2,500.

Garcia was unwilling to say too much, such as the budget or timeline, saying the project was now the subject of an active tendering process.

Newsday asked if the work pertained to aesthetically lifting the building’s façade, or was needed due to its age, some 130 years old.

Garcia replied, “If you visit the museum, you’ll realise it has not been renovated or refurbished for a number of years. So there are a number of structural issues.

“There are issues of leaking roofs, there are issues of general repair and maintenance, and also some minor expansion work.”

Asked if the works would conserve the historical aspects of the edifice, he replied that this consideration was exactly the reason Udecott was chosen as project manager.

“We do now have a lot of experience in dealing with heritage buildings. So what we will be doing is that we will be refurbishing and upgrading but still keeping the building in the form and fashion that it was in the past. So we are not demolishing the building but doing an upgrade and a refurbishment, all in keeping with the strict guidelines that we treat heritage buildings with in the past.”

Garcia recalled the long list of historical buildings in Trinidad and Tobago whose renovation Udecott had overseen.

He said, “The Heritage Library, Mille Fleurs, Stollmeyer’s Castle, President’s House, the Red House, Whitehall. We are presently (sic) doing the Bishop’s House around the savannah.

“We do have some experience.”

Garcia elaborated on the museum project.

“It is an upgrade refurbishment to ensure that the building is fit for purpose, that it carries out the function it is supposed to carry out.

“As a museum, it holds a number of our artefacts, paintings, etcetera. Therefore it is incumbent to make sure the building is structurally sound, and the air-conditioning and the plumbing are in good order, and the roof is not leaking. The building is very old and these type of repairs are necessary to preserve and maintain the building.

“It is one of those buildings that has been listed by the National Trust and like all listed buildings we need to preserve it. We need to put them into use. The museum is doing what it is supposed to be doing and this is going to extend the life of the building.”

The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago website remarked, “This site is on the Heritage Asset Inventory which is the official list of TT’s historic sites that are worthy of notation and preservation. The register is authorised by the National Trust’s council and is by no means exhaustive.”

The website said the Royal Victoria Institute was built as a science and art museum to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee which fell on June 22, 1897.

“It was built in the German Renaissance style, designed by the architect D M Hahn.

“The institute was used for research exhibits of natural history and archaeology, and classes in arts and crafts.”

In 1901 the building was enlarged to include a reading room and recreation room while lawn tennis courts were developed on the grounds and by 1905 the site was a centre for social and dramatic functions. “On 19 May 1920 the interior of the building was destroyed by fire. Only the external walls remained and most of the collections were lost. The main portion of the building was rebuilt using the same plan as the old building.” It was reopened in June 1923 and used for theatrical and musical entertainment and commercial classes.

“In 1945, the colonial government decided to expand exhibitions and activities and give the institute the status of a museum.

“The National Museum of Trinidad and Tobago, as it serves the public interest, relates the history, artistic, intellectual, economic, technological, legal, social, political and physical environments.”