Heritage campaigners on St Helena remain hopeful that the island’s precious archives can be moved to the old Public Works store in Jamestown – even though it has been put up for sale.
The historic warehouse was earmarked to house both historic documents and the island’s public library, in a partnership with the Museum of St Helena.
But on 10 December 2013 it was announced that it was being advertised for sale on the open market, along with Head o’Wain clinic and Wranghams House in Sandy Bay.
One councillor is demanding to know why elected politicians and the public were not consulted.
“For sale” notices appeared on the PWD store while museum representatives were still waiting for a response to their latest proposal to open the building to the public.
The scheme would have helped solve problems with the archives, which are kept in a room off the courtyard in The Castle that is acknowledged to be inadequate.
Concern has been expressed about preservation of documents that date back to the time of the East India Company’s rule in St Helena.
The archaeologist Dr Andy Pearson visited the island in 2013 to begin work on making digital copies of the most important and vulnerable documents.
The team behind the archives and library plan has promised to continue to push for it.
But the government clearly sees scope to exploit the empty store’s prominent position in the historic heart of Jamestown, next to the museum and across the Grand Parade from The Castle.
The government’s press release describes the PWD store as “a large prime building in Jamestown with substantial development potential”.
It adds: “It has the potential to transform the area and possibly set the tone for other regeneration in the area.”
The release said the government’s property department was trying to “lead the way in creating a more open and transparent property market,” with assets offered for sale on the island before being advertised internationally.
The PWD store has been empty since December 2005.
An audit report in February 2011 said there was no maintenance programme for the historic building. Five years of inaction had led to deterioration.
It said: “It is planned for the existing Public Library to be moved to the Ex-PWD Store. Plans are currently being drawn up for a new Learning Resource Centre, to be taken forward under the Jamestown Improvement Project initiative.”
Island historian Nick Thorpe said he and fellow heritage campaigners were not giving up on their plan.
“It might still happen if our proposal that they lease the building to the Heritage Society at a peppercorn rent comes about,” he said.
“We will raise money to transform the building into Library Archives and cultural centre.”
Offers for the old store – which has three large rooms, each taking up an entire floor of the building – must be submitted by 26 February 2014.
Offers for Wranghams House must be made by 5 February, and for the Head O’Wain Clinic by 12 February.
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