Martin Carter
(1927-1997)
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Privately funded National Archives building progressing slowly

The construction of a two-storey building, funded by a private investor to house the National Archives on Homestretch Avenue has been progressing slowly.

In exchange for the building, the private investor has purchased the land on which the National Archives is currently housed on Main Street, downtown Georgetown. KP Thomas and Sons Contracting Inc is constructing the building on Homestretch Avenue for an undisclosed sum.

When Stabroek News visited the site, adjacent to the National Cultural Centre during the week, there was a lull in work and the project manager referred this newspaper to the contractor for information or details on the building.

Contacted, Ken Thomas of KP Thomas told Stabroek News he was not at liberty to reveal the cost of the building or when it would be completed except that completion would depend on the features the contracting party wanted.

Thomas referred Stabroek News to Head of the Privatisation Unit, Winston Brassington but he could not be reached during the week. Stabroek News was referred to another officer within the unit but she was unable to assist.

Stabroek News was also unsuccessful in contacting Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Anthony Xavier or Permanent Secretary in the same ministry, Keith Booker.

Late last year after the staff of the National Archives had been told they had to relocate temporarily to the National Cultural Centre. Stabroek News reported on this and the temporary relocation was then shelved.

The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport subsequently issued a press release in response stating that an investor had offered the Guyana government to build a new building to house the archives on land adjacent to the National Cultural Centre.

On completion of the building the investor would acquire the site where the National Archives is now located on Main Street. No mention was made of the name of the investor or the purpose to which the Main Street site would be put.

The movement of the archival materials were halted after this newspaper reported the plans to move them and concerns had been raised over the handling and storage of centuries-old documents.

The ministry's release had said that the finalization of the designs were under discussion but from all appearances, which included the contractor already being on site and laying the foundation of the building, the deal had already been struck.

The release had said that the search for a permanent home for the National Archives had been on the cards for decades and the ministry and the National Archives Advisory Commit-tee have been aggressively pursuing this for the last five years and as such its removal to a new home should be applauded as a dream finally coming through after 30 years.

Stabroek News had learnt of the planned removal of the archival materials after a noted historian visited the National Archives but could not access research material because of the preparations for removal.

Concerns had been expressed that the cultural centre would have been inappropriate for the temporary storage of archival material and many pieces would have been damaged in the process.

The ministry's release had said the provisional first move to a part of the National Cultural Centre was to protect the artefacts as construction was taking place next door at a privately-owned building which posed some risk to the archives collection.

The move was to take place under the supervision of the National Archives Advisory Board, whose Chairman is Dr James Rose, historian and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana.

However, the National Archives has since remained open to the public and there is no evidence of construction taking place in the immediate vicinity, though the area has been fenced off.

Some of the materials in the archives were previously housed in the dome of the Parliament Buildings for years after which they were moved to a small building near the Central Fire Station on Water Street, close to the Stabroek Market. They were later moved to the Main Street location, which formerly housed the Barclays Bank. Some were accommodated in quarters at the National Museum building.

Lots of materials in the National Museum building are reportedly threatened. Public records are also housed in such institutions as the Parliament, Lands and Surveys, Deeds Registry, Central Housing & Planning Authority and City Council. Some materials are also reported to be in individuals' private collections. (Miranda La Rose)

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