By Anesta Henry
A committee of volunteers affiliated with the Board of the Grantley Adams Memorial School is hoping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore an old hospital at Blackman’s Plantation, St Joseph which is believed to have been used for the enslaved.
It has been estimated that the massive project to restore the historic building would take at least $750 000.
Miguel Pena, a member of the committee, said the volunteers were in the process of soliciting funding from local agencies and private citizens to begin the restoration work on the structure situated on the compound of the Grantley Adams Memorial School.
“We are still in the very early days… there are some promising potential donors, but we still have to redouble our efforts as it relates to essentially meeting with the community in St Joseph to find out exactly what it is they wish to do with the space, in collaboration with the school, of course, because it’s on school property as you can appreciate.”
Speaking at the launch of the Repurposing of the Old Slave Hospital project at the school on Thursday, noted historian Professor Sir Henry Fraser, who also sits on the committee, said the long narrow building, which has two wings, each 38 feet long and 16 feet wide and a central administrative area, is more than 200 years old.
He explained that the building was used as science laboratories when the previous West St Joseph School first started but was abandoned when purpose-built laboratories were introduced. The roof of the structure was destroyed by fire 15 years ago, he added.
“The hope is that it be restored as an art gallery and exhibition space for the art students and as a tourist site. We have currently got the interest of an English group called the Commonwealth Heritage Forum, and they sent out a restoration builder, Mr Mark Womersley, who has been teaching students from the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute how to do restoration work with old stone buildings.
“He has been teaching students here about it, generating enthusiasm, and we have brought people together today to see the building and to see the opportunities whereby this building can be used for education, for culture and even for tourism,” Professor Fraser said.
Meanwhile, Womersley, who said he believes that the cost of restoring the building would be more than $750 000, suggested that the project could be executed in stages.
“You could make it structurally-sound and put a roof on it. So even if you didn’t have all the money to start with, at least you would have a roof on, and it wasn’t going to get any worse,” he said.
Member of Parliament for St Joseph, Attorney General Dale Marshall, said that while Professor Fraser approached him about the possibility of the Government assisting with the funding for the project, the state could not afford the undertaking at this time.
However, he is supportive of the endeavour and is looking forward to viewing the restored facility.
“I want to commend our overseas donors. I met Mark Womersley and I know of his contribution and his interest in this project. To be truthful, I can tell you as a member of the cabinet that there is so much we would like to do as a Government, but we can’t,” Marshall said, as he extended gratitude to the Commonwealth Heritage Forum for its contribution to the project.