It was just a matter of time. A section of the old New Amsterdam Hospital building came crashing down around 11 am yesterday, less than two weeks after an article appeared in this newspaper with residents expressing fears of this happening.
The loud, cracking sound was initially presumed to an earthquake but residents soon discovered that the outstanding example of timber architecture could no longer withstand constant attacks from vandals.
The central pavilion along Charles Place, which was completed in 1884 crumbled after its pillars were removed by vagrants who sold the lumber from the landmark edifice at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 per horse-drawn cart.
The structure which once adorned the New Amsterdam landscape will likely soon be put to rest like its architect Cesar Castellani, who died on August 2, 1905.
Angry residents yesterday shouted words of disgust at the fate that had befallen the once beautiful structure and said they were “fed up complaining” to the authorities.
Stabroek News had spoken to the residents last week and they had expressed dismay that government was doing nothing to stop the vandals from destroying it and had said it was “a slap in the face to Berbicians.”
They had told this newspaper that their only hope now for the historical piece is for the preservation of a small portion which has not yet been heavily vandalized.
The residents had suggested that government “pull down the other parts of the building completely in a better manner and use the site for something else.”
Referring to the building as an “eyesore,” a resident commented, “Look how beautiful it was and now the people break it up.”
He said it seems as though government does not want to keep the structure and is allowing persons to do the job for them as “cheap labour.”
The man had said he was disappointed in the attitude of the administration regarding the hospital and said it was really frustrating to watch it being torn apart bit by bit. He noted that this was one of the many masterpieces around the country that have been abandoned.
He said too, “This is a barefaced thing. Some people would call and say what they want and the vandals would deliver it.”
A retired staffer of the old hospital had told this newspaper, “It is very sad what is happening to it and as an old worker it grieves me… thousands of workers and patients passed through there…”
She said “it is really bad; government should not have encouraged that to happen. But it is gone now… it can’t come back.”
The woman as well as other residents had said “when they [vandals] banging on the building we don’t get rest.”
A resident who passes by the hospital every day and witnesses the vandals in action said, “They would come with trucks and horse carts and move the materials in broad daylight and nobody can tell them anything.”
He said the vandals would be hammering away at the building “night and day and you cannot even rest in your own house.” Sections of the building were originally to be transformed into a nursing school and dormitory.
Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, when contacted had said that the project had commenced. The ministry was “still working on it” but needed more money for its completion.
The minister had said at the time he had not received any report that the materials were removed and was also unaware that zinc sheets and other items were being stolen.
Meanwhile residents had said that soon after the commissioning of the new NA facility on February 20, 2005 vandals started to dismantle the old edifice.
They had been removing boards, zinc sheets, sinks, cupboards and electrical and pipe fittings from the old structure during the night. But now, residents said, “They are doing it in broad daylight without fear of being caught.”
They had said too that recently vandals have started breaking into their homes and removing articles as well.
At a recent press conference in Berbice, Minister within the Ministry of Health, Dr Bheri Ramsaran said it was “regrettable” that vandals were damaging the building.
He said the ministry was “looking forward to the positive” and “would continue to strengthen that new hospital” until decisions are made regarding the old building.
The old building is a timber architectural masterpiece that was designed by world renowned architect, Cesar Castellani in 1881 and officially opened in 1884.
A brief history of the hospital states that an extension which started from the western end of the building in 1925 and was completed in 1926, served as the tuberculosis ward on the bottom flat and a maternity ward on the top flat.
The x-ray department was established in 1928 and an x-ray machine was purchased and installed. The other x-ray department was opened in December 1966.
The nurses’ dining room was built and a small laboratory was erected in 1932. Further additions were done to the building in 1950.
There was no adequate water supply and rainwater had to be collected and stored in large tanks and then pumped into the wards. The water system was improved in 1952 when an artesian well was sunk.