What is the future of the Carnegie (aka Public) Library?
Three years after Hurricane Maria which destroyed the roof of the Public Library in Roseau, citizens are asking questions about its status and why it has not been repaired.
Historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch said that the Public Library on Victoria Street, Roseau, remains "open to the sky, empty and abandoned ever since its roof was stripped off by Hurricane Maria."
Dr. Honychurch, like many others, continues to speculate.
The prominent local historian archeologist said the library suffered the same type of damage when Hurricane David devastated Dominica in August 1979. But because of speedy response by library staff and members of its advisory board, the roof was back on by the end of November 1979. After a few more months of internal work and repainting, the Library was open again to the public in early 1980.
Dr. Lennox Honychurch said when Hurricane Maria swept through Dominica, the library was 111 years old, and the building was already under severe pressure from the thousands of pupils and general readers who used it.
"Successive Chief Librarians made efforts to effect repairs where possible and preserve the beautiful wooden fretwork balustrade along the verandah," he said. "Now new challenges face the site. A decade ago there was talk of building a completely new library in the space between the old Library and the small Victoria Memorial Building. At the request of the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, I drew sketch plans. These were revised by professional architects to provide a number of alternative designs. They still sit awaiting decisions."
A source close to the library, who did not want to be named, confirmed that a plan to build a new library is available.
"The building was falling apart and so the damage done by Hurricane Maria was the cue needed to fast track the process of a new building," the source said. "The structure is now unsafe since it has been left to the elements and the two recent fires further compounded it…the building must be demolished and a new structure erected."
According to the source, a number of sites were examined including the land of the Dominica Club on High Street and also the proposed Pound Rehabilitation Project on Kennedy Avenue but it all came back to the original site.
Recently, two fires within a few days, at the site have raised many questions on the origin of the fires. The building is infested with molds, there is no water and or electricity there and vagrants have made it their home.
The demolition of the old building has also been suggested especially since it is open to the elements and the two fires have further weakened the structure.
Dr. Honychurch describes this as "madness."
"Few seem to understand the strength of early 20th century concrete. The verandah is undamaged. Except for the main roof and wooden floor, the structure is in fine condition. It would make a perfect lecture hall and small theatre," he said.
Funds for the construction of the public library was donated by American Andrew Carnegie, retired industrialist turned philanthropist. It was officially opened in September 1906 and was named the Carnegie Library.
Historic buildings in Dominica appear to be given little consideration. Dominica recently demolished another historic building when the childhood home of world renowned author Jean Rhys, located on Independence Street in Roseau, was razed to the ground.