By Andre Bagoo
March 14, 2010 – newsday.co.tt
IT COULD TAKE as much as $80 million to correct flaws in the design of the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), Port-of-Spain, the interim President of the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) Rubadiri Victor, estimated yesterday.
While Prime Minister Patrick Manning last week praised the NAPA as being “world class,” Victor yesterday begged to differ, saying the facility is plagued with technical problems and argued that it does not compare in any form with Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s.
Discussing a dossier on the NAPA prepared by the ACTT which has been circulating on the internet this month, Victor, a multi-media artist, said, “$80 million is a realistic estimate of the costs that would be involved to correct the defects.”
“It appears as though the firm which built and designed the facility (Shanghai Construction Group) may not have been experienced in building facilities of this kind,” he said.
The ACTT in their dossier, entitled, “The Tragedy and Hidden History of the NAPA”, the coalition of artists also estimate that maintenance of the building like the NAPA, which has an estimated budget of about $500 million, can approach as much as ten per cent of building cost. Architects, though, noted that maintenance costs are difficult to estimate due to the variables involved, such as the quality of original materials used.
Among the defects noted in the ACTT dossier are:
There is no loading area for the main stage;
The stage is “ill-matched” to the 1,500 seating capacity of the hall;
The orchestra pit is defective;
The light and sound boards are analogue and not digital (the industry standard for the last decade);
There are “hundreds of problems with lighting and sound fixtures and equipment” The stage floor is “ribbed and is not a sprung floor so is ill-suited for dancing and thus will damage dancers”.
Dance studios are flawed;
There are “no costume rooms, no set construction rooms and no warehousing rooms”;
One architect not involved in the ACTT report, who has been inside the NAPA yesterday confirmed the flaws identified in the report and added, “the floors are laminated and they have begun to chip already. Because of materials used, there are also creases on the stage, which will be a challenge for dancer.”
“A loading area’s dimensions are normally about 16 feet x 10 feet- NAPA has a normal door! This means that sets, costumes of a certain size, certain musical instruments (hint- one of them is our national one) cannot fit through NAPA’s doors to get backstage!” the report, compiled from a site visit and other sources, notes.
“The two rooms that have been trumpeted as the two smaller theatres are in fact just two rooms. Flat rooms with no seats. It would cost tens of millions of dollars to convert these rooms into theatres.”
“All the light and sound boards are analogue not digital. They are also mid-standard and not high-end,” the report continues. “Most of the fixtures are completely wrong: There are literally hundreds of problems with lighting and sound fixtures and equipment. Some may sound small to laypeople but they mean everything to the technicians entrusted to make sure shows go on.”
“For instance: the bars that the hundreds of light fixtures are on are square and not round. This means that lights can only be pointed in four directions (two of them up to the roof!) and not in gradated choice as on a round bar.”
Tellingly, signage for technical parts of the building is in Chinese, an indication that the design—heavily trumped as being inspired by the Chaconia flower—may not have been original to Trinidad and Tobago.
Additionally, “There are no dressing rooms within reach of the backstage, and no clothing racks, showers and a host of other amenities in the dressing rooms that do exist. This probably can be rectified but it will cost.”
“There are no monitors for backstage and for the stage manager. This probably too can be rectified — but it will cost.”
“The stage-floor is ribbed and is not a sprung floor so is ill-suited for dancing and thus will damage dancers. Theatrical floors are ‘rigged’ so that dancers can dance on then — they have a bounce to absorb and cushion dancers — otherwise it’s like you are dancing on concrete.”
“The dance studios are completely unsuited for dance. The dance-rooms have concrete and terrazzo floors; have dance bars too high; and have mirrors on both walls creating a circus infinite-mirror effect. This means there are effectively no dance studio spaces in NAPA. New properly constructed dance floors will have to be built, one mirrored wall will have to come down and all the dance bars taken down and re-hung.
To add to the litany of complaints, “there are no costume rooms, no set construction rooms and no warehousing rooms.”
Members of the ACTT include Fabien Alphonso, president of the Recording Industry Association of Trinidad and Tobago (RIATT) and Andre Reyes, president of the Artist Teachers Association.
“I don’t know how it could be that the firm that got the contract has a competency in building a performing arts centre,” Victor, who appeared before the Uff Commission of Inquiry into Udecott, the state corporation that built the facility, said. “This is a tragedy of an immense proportion.”
President of the Joint Consultative Council of the local construction industry Winston Riley yesterday noted that aside from functional problems, there have been concerns about the construction materials used for the project.
“There are serious concerns about it as an academy,” he noted, “but we have been concerned about the use of mild steel in the building which we believe would put the building under risk.”
The NAPA was reportedly built pursuant to a Government to Government agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and China, at an estimated budget of about $500 million. There was no competitive tender for the project which was handed to the Shanghai Construction Group, the same company that built the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre. Efforts to contact SCG were unsuccessful.
When Manning, who had come under fire for his constant defence of Udecott in the face of compelling evidence of corruption at the state enterprise, opened the building last November, he called it, “a masterpiece owned by the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
At a press briefing last week in London for Commonwealth observances, Manning, the chairman of the Commonwealth, noted that the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place at NAPA. “All in all my dear friends, I think that we were pleased with the outcome. Of course, we were able to expose to the international community a new facility in Port-of-Spain: a National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) which as everybody saw, we believe is acknowledged to be a world class facility in a small developing country, seeking and striving to take its place among the great countries of the world,” Manning said. Udecott has blocked attempts to have an open media tour of the project.
“Taxpayers are going to have to live with this,” Victor said yesterday.