By Kaelanne Jordan
After 20 years of restoration, the ceremonial reopening and the long-awaited resumption of Parliament at the iconic structure called the Red House heralded the beginning of a new chapter.
“Today is about continuity and posterity,” The Honourable Bridgid Annisette-George, Speaker of the House of Representatives said in her speech at the reopening of the Red House on Friday, January 24, 2020.
“As we continue our work here, let us individually and collectively pledge that we shall, in our work and conduct, honour the legacy of the Red House with the depth of dedication, the strenuous commitment and the unwavering service to Trinidad and Tobago which this building epitomises,” Annisette- George continued.
The formal reopening which began at 10.30 a.m. was celebrated with pomp and ceremony, the reception held in the now air-conditioned rotunda followed by a West Wing Courtyard reception. President Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, ORTT; The Honourable Christine Kangaloo President of the Senate; Prime Minister The Honourable Dr Keith Rowley; and the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Leader of the Opposition, among others gave remarks.
A media tour at 1.30 p.m. led by Manager, Corporate Communications at Parliament Jason Elcock followed.
The two Media Centres (one in each Chamber), are equipped with Wifi.
Though the Red House will continue to house the Legislature exclusively, which it has done for two decades prior, for the first time in history, both its south and north chambers shall be used exclusively by the Legislature to allow for simultaneous Sittings by the Senate and the House of the Representatives.
The northern Chamber will now be used by the House of Representatives while the southern Chamber will be occupied by the Senate.
Access to the Red House can either be via Abercromby or St Vincent streets. Prior access was only on St Vincent street. There is an elevator on the Abercromby street entrance and stairs. Elcock added that a ramp on St Vincent street allows easy access for persons who use wheelchairs.
At the Senate Chamber, Elcock explained that the statues of Captain Arthur Andrew Cipriani and Count de Verteuil were initially removed during renovations but have since been returned.
“This may not be their final spot; they may need to move elsewhere but this is where they are for the time being…” he said.
The Senate chair was a gift from the government of India when Trinidad and Tobago came into Independence in 1962. It was too big to use in Tower D so it was placed in storage and returned to its current location. “Even the part behind [the seat], it wasn’t a gift from India, but it was kept in storage…they had to get a crane to bring it back into the building …and put it into position.”
The Red House was rebuilt in 1907 and has gone through many iterations. Elcock remembers some of it in gold and other colours. The external façade of the building was restored to look as it would have when it was opened that same year, he said. Because the Red House is a functioning building, restoring the inside was not practical “because to restore the inside means no air conditioning, no computer functioning,” Elcock explained. As such, the Red House was “rehabilitated” on the inside but every effort was taken to hide, at least in some areas, the modern conveniences such as the air-conditioning ducts.
He added that the now air-conditioned rotunda previously had no AC and the chamber is “bigger now”. The fountain in the centre of the rotunda was designed by Chief Draughtsman of Public Works Daniel M Hahn as a means of cooling and ventilating the offices, in the days before air-conditioning.
Udecott.com cites Hahn as adding the high central cupola popularly known as the rotunda, the ornate stucco ceilings in the southern and northern chambers, and the fortifications around the roof.
The Red House today is the second Government building to be known by this name since the newly-constructed government offices were built on the same site and given the same name. The name Brunswick Square was changed to Woodford Square during World War I (1914-1918). The rubble which was removed after the fire (1903 Water Riots) was used as landfill for Victoria and Harris Squares; so when you stroll through these public squares you may literally be walking on the history of the Red House (Adapted from Mavrogodato, O,The Red House in Voices in the Street).
The tour culminated with a walk-through of the Cabildo Building which serves as ancillary offices for the seat of Parliament. No pictures were allowed within the space.
The Cabildo Building is accessed through a “high walled” passageway from the Red House. It is tiered over St Vincent Street.
The Cabildo Building has two committee rooms—one on the second floor (Door 31) and the other on the ground floor (Door 21) both of which have the capacity to go live. The rooms are yet to be named. The “grand rooms”, as Elcock referred to them, can also facilitate simultaneous sittings/meetings and live recordings.
“So will there be a Parliament [Channel] 2 then?” one reporter asked.
“Well we have to determine how we going to do it. Most likely we will stream one and broadcast one on the channel and of course record both of them for playback afterwards. Your decision will be who you going to send to cover what? If the House and the Senate meeting at the same time…it may prove challenging for y’all as well…” Elcock replied.
After being housed at the International Waterfront Complex, Port of Spain since 2011, Parliament will officially return to the Red House with the Standing Finance Committee in the House of Representatives Monday, January 27 at 10.30 a.m.