Owing to what he sees as negligence and a rush to condemn buildings before exploring refurbishment possibilities, Sir Henry Fraser has deemed the Ministry of Housing, the ‘undertaker of government buildings’ in Barbados.
During a recent presentation on ‘UWI and Health Care in the Caribbean – Successes, Problems and Opportunities’, the Cave Hill Campus Faculty of Health Sciences Dean Emeritus switched hats to that of a heritage historian for which he is also known, and cited examples of four old buildings that either died of neglect or were saved through private intervention.
Recalling a past Bajan approach of converting old structures to new uses, he dismissively said, “what Barbadians did, was what they’ve always done for 200 years but they don’t like to do anymore. That is adapt it and reuse it [buildings].
All the old schools in Barbados are in reused adapted restored buildings.”
Sir Henry spoke of the May fire at the old General Hospital on Jemmott’s Lane to show that not only is there an absence of restoration efforts but it is combined with abandonment. He said that structure was “gutted by fire because the Ministry of Housing, which I often label not the caretaker of abandoned government buildings but the undertaker of our government buildings, tends to leave all the doors open so that those who have no home, the elegantly labelled vagrants of Bridgetown can find a place to sleep and eat their meals, and sooner or later burn them down”.
Speaking earlier this month in the Cave Hill Lecture Theatre named after him, the first Dean of that faculty continued “the General Hospital has been devastated, three fires down Jemmott’s Lane, two buildings to go”.
The historian recalled that “the General Hospital built in Bridgetown in 1841 was a wonderful example of an early PPP (public private partnership) because the money was raised for it in equal sums [Government and private] of about 2,500 pounds”. Among the reasons that hospital gave way to the QEH was a need for more patient room.
Sir Henry reached further back in time to illustrate the case of the ‘Slave Hospital’ in Blackman’s Plantation, St Joseph.
As he explained, slave owners built that structure in the 1780s because the Atlantic slave trade was ending so they sought to preserve the health of slaves they already had as no new slaves were being supplied.
“This is the only slave hospital that I believe survived in Barbados… which was gutted by fire about 10 years ago. It is still there with weeds growing out of it,” he said.
He moved on to buildings whose stories make a better tale, to date. The historian described the successful collaboration of UWI and the Ministry of Health in adapting for use the Nightingale’s Nurses Home with its two-foot thick coral stone walls as “a wonderful university partnership with Government”. The Dean then, Sir Henry and former Cave Hill Principal, now UWI Vice-Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles got into an arrangement with the Ministry of Health “and it was agreed that for a peppercorn long lease that could become the university clinical skills complex. It’s now the Errol Walrond Clinical Skills Complex… in which much of our teaching goes on”.
Then there is the Chronic Disease Research Centre that is today housed in a formerly condemned 200-year-old structure standing at Lower Collymore Rock and Jemmott’s Lane.
“When Professor [Errol] Walrond and I approached the Ministry of Health for a building close to the hospital that we can develop as a research centre, they gave me the names and pointed out three condemned buildings,” Sir Henry recalled of what transpired in 1992.
“One of them was breaking apart at the seams… the other had been completely vandalized,” he said, adding that the current CDRC building “had a couple of broken outside shutters, a tiny leak in one room and peeling paint [but] the Ministry of Health had condemned it. Two-foot thick walls, a superb building.” This building that was probably on its way to demolition “was restored in three phases for about half a million dollars, a building that is occupied by 30 research people with all the mod cons (modern facilities)”.