The almost century-old wooden structure of the St. Rose’s High School could have been saved if regular maintenance was done, says Sister Mary Peter Ngui.
According to a piece written by Sr. Jacqueline Da Silva titled, “Through one hundred and fifty years of history- the Ursuline’s and St. Rose’s,” the structure set for demolition was constructed in 1925 after the nuns realised that there was need for more space to accommodate their growing student population.
Sister Mary Peter is one of the Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union who ran the high school prior to it being taken over by the government in 1976. She is also currently the liaison for the convent with regards to the upcoming demolition and reconstruction of the wooden structure of the school.
Speaking with Stabroek News last week, Sr. Mary Peter expressed the belief that if regular maintenance was done from the time the government had taken over the school to now, the building would have been in better condition and would not require such a “drastic” move as to have it demolished.
Nevertheless, she noted that that one would also have to consider the fact that wooden structures are very expensive to maintain before saying, “You can’t hold on to things just out of sentimental reasons; it doesn’t make sense.”
Stabroek News understands that the three-storey building, which is now 92 years old was designed by French Canadian nun, Mother St. Catherine. In her design, she included an auditorium with graded floor and stage which was considered the largest of its kind in Georgetown for many years; above the auditorium was a large dormitory with classrooms while the St. Agnes Primary School occupied the lower level of the building, all of which is now set for demolition.
This newspaper has for some time now attempted to confirm the actual date of demolition since reports received indicated that it had to be pushed back several times.
However, when asked if they have been informed of the date for demolition, Sr. Mary Peter responded in the negative, before noting that the date had to be pushed back several times due to various reasons.
According to the nun, talks about demolishing the building began more than three years ago, however, due to the need of the convent to ensure that they had the paperwork to show that the land on which the school sits belongs to them, the process was delayed.
“We refused to let them have permission to do anything until they gave us an official statement saying that the place belongs to us,” Sr. Mary Peter said as she reflected on a previous incident involving the construction of the building that now houses several classes of the St. Agnes Primary School.
She noted that after many attempts, the convent received official documentation that confirms the land belongs to them.
“Eventually we received an official letter saying that the land belongs to the sisters and that is when we gave permission but we have to be involved in it. We have to know what you’re doing and we have to see proof of what you’re doing. They are being very gracious to us, they have been consulting with us and they have a very good board,” Sr. Mary Peter said.
Commenting on the other reasons for the delay, Sr. Peter Ngui said, “first it was because they wouldn’t give us this paper and eventually we got it but then we got delayed by something else and they couldn’t just stop the school in the middle of the school term. They did evacuate the whole building and relocated the children to other parts of the school. They are trying their best to accommodate everyone,” she explained.
Additionally, the submission of a ground plan and another report by the National Trust of Guyana are also other factors that are contributing to the delay of the demolition exercise.
“They are supposed to plan (for) the whole place which has not yet been done, and that is another thing that has kept them back because they have no plan to work with,” the Sister said.
Commenting on the role of the National Trust, she explained that the wooden structure is considered by the agency as a national heritage site and as such as a request was made by them to be allowed to document the building as it currently stands for preservation purposes.
“It has been considered a national heritage site because of its rich history and so we had to inform them that we are doing it and they have responded and said that they want to make a record of what it is now so that they can preserve its history. Until they have completed their report, they cannot go ahead with anything,” she explained.
Asked about their role in the new design for the building, Sr. Mary Peter explained that while they were not shown the final plans they have seen “bits and pieces” and would have been allowed to give their input.
“They haven’t produced it completely, I have only see bits and pieces. They have shown us some plans of what they intend to do but they are still to refine it because it’s just the first draft. They are going to build an auditorium bigger than the current one because they have more students. When they sent us it we sent back our notes saying this is not a good idea, for example they said they were not going to put in a canteen and we said they needed a canteen. They don’t have a lot of space there when we had the meeting persons said they wanted this and that but they can’t have everything they had to choose what they wanted. Whatever they produce they send to us and we say whether we have any objections,” she related.
“We are not worried about it…they are being very careful and our hope is that when they start building they will move quickly for the students,” Sr. Mary Peter added.