By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The St Francis of Assisi RC Building Committee is hosting a fundraising concert June 18 at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) for continuing restoration of the Belmont church.
“We are committed and hoping for the completion of Phase 2 so we can celebrate Christmas Mass at St Francis of Assisi 2023,” said Jose Nivet of the St Francis RC Restoration Committee in a media briefing at the St Francis of Assisi Pastoral Centre on Thursday, April 28.
Tickets for the concert cost $400, $300, and $250. Performers will include: the National Steel Symphony Orchestra, QEDTT—the three tenors Edward Cumberbatch, Raymond Edwards, Nigel Floyd; Jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles, Wendell Manwarren, the T&T Police Service Band, Shiv Shakti Dance Company, St Francis Choir, Krisson Joseph performer Soca/Calypso, Classical singer Hermina Charles and Spoken Word performer Rheon Elbourne.
Nivet said the Committee was looking for corporate sponsorship for the event and support from the public and diaspora.
On Palm Sunday, April 10 last year, the ‘Gala Belmont Heritage Benefit’ at NAPA raised $650,000, and a silent art auction at Mille Fleur last October took in “a little over” $200,000. Seventy-two out of 90 paintings were sold, and the rest are available for the public to buy.
Throughout the year, the parish has fundraising sales however, Nivet stated that restoration cannot be funded solely by cake sales and takeaway lunches etc. These raised $5 million in 10 years but in the interim, the delay for restoration to begin caused further decay of the church.
Nivet said benefactors and corporate supporters are required who see the importance of preserving built heritage. “The importance of community upliftment has been stated by sociologists over the years. Belmont as the first suburb of Port of Spain…through its national contribution in so many ways, over so many years, is worthy of upliftment,” he said.
The Committee is seeking to raise $4 million for the second phase of work.
Also addressing the media briefing was Margaret McDowell, Chair of the National Trust. In attendance were parish priest Fr Peter Aduaka VC, Chair of
the Building Committee Douglas James, and members Kenneth McMayo, quantity surveyor and Early Wilson, civil engineer.
Structural/restoration engineer Danielle Steele of the Restoration Technical Committee gave an overview of Phase 1, emergency work. She said, “The aim of it was to ensure we dealt with all issues that would be harming the church. We wanted to make sure we stop any ingress of water.”
The roof was restored using most of the original timber. Steele added, “We restored the stained glass within the building, a number of them had broken panes and paint that was fading.”
The walls above the lower roof were repointed (restored mortar); the concrete surface was removed and replaced with lime mortar. The use of concrete negatively impacts lime mortar in the walls causing it to deteriorate and become powdery when it retains too much moisture.
The strength of the mortar holding the stones and bricks together is gone.
“In going and using Portland cement and covering the buildings these heritage buildings that would have originally lime [mortar], what in fact we are doing, we are encasing the building…and preventing that movement of water through the walls.”
Steele said with any little shakes from an earthquake, severe cracks become visible. “That is an issue we are seeing in all our heritage buildings.” General electrical work was done to prepare for Phase Two.
Elaborating on Phase 2, another member of the Technical Committee, architect and restoration expert Rudylynn de Four Roberts said, “This is the push. We want to finish the church.”
Phase 2 will focus on restoring the exterior wall and repointing the walls. The Portland cement will be removed. “We are going to restore the interior walls. If you walk through the church, you will see so many lovely details, cornices, and heavy mouldings and all of it has to be remade and repaired,” de Four Roberts stated.
A ramp will be installed for differently abled persons to access the church and new railings installed on the staircase at the entrance. The sacristy and flower room will be redone.
De Four Roberts said, “the sanctuary is going to get special attention.” Other areas of attention are the apse and altars. De Four Roberts continued, “We willinstall the stained glass that has been restored…. we left that for this phase, so we don’t have any damage when we put in the glass.”
Also mentioned was the installation of fans and lighting fixtures and restoration of the Stations of the Cross. The bell tower will be a “big job”. It was damaged in an earthquake.