The Session House is falling into disrepair as are other empty Government buildings. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
The Session House is falling into disrepair as are other empty Government buildings. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28: The historic 195-year-old building where MPs and the Supreme Court sit needs millions of dollars worth of repairs, the Minister in charge of Government buildings said yesterday.

Michael Scott, the Minister for Government Estates and Information Services, said the ornate Italian-style Sessions House was in need of major work.

He said the Ministry was particularly concerned about the terracotta design features added to celebrate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria.

Mr Scott said: “The building has a lot of Italianate architectural features which need some TLC (tender, loving care). We have a colleague who could restore it to its original glory.

“In the context of celebrating Bermuda’s rich heritage, it would be a wonderful thing to do. But it will take a lot of money.”

The building was originally opened in 1817 after the island capital was moved from St George to Hamilton in 1815. Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee was in 1887, but the additions, including the landmark clocktower, were not completed until 1893.

Ministry Permanent Secretary Robert Horton added: “It’s not just the façade that needs work, the whole infrastructure requires attention — the roofing, plumbing and other things all require a major overhaul.

“We do believe it can be restored magnificently – but it’s a priority matter.”

A spokeswoman for the Bermuda National Trust said Sessions House was “a building of great importance historically and architecturally.”

She added: “The National Trust has many times advocated for it to be included and afforded protection under the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest.

“The House of Assembly and Courts have met continuously in this building since 1820, and the structure of the original building survives. The Italianate towers, including the clocktower, and terracotta arcades are one of the most impressive and largest surviving examples of Victorian architecture in Bermuda.”

Mr Scott, whose ministry is in charge of around 800 buildings, said that he was also keen to support sustainable development for less prominent properties owned by Government.

Mr Scott said: “The issue of disused or derelict buildings remains a challenge across the island. We have a good reputation for looking beautiful and some houses let the side down.

“We welcome opportunities for people to partner with us to restore some of these buildings, some of which are Government-owned. It becomes a question of when our revenues are healthy enough so we can restore buildings which are key to us.”

Ministry Permanent Secretary Robert Horton said it was well known that disused buildings were attractive to undesirable elements.

He added: “Some of these buildings are being used for nefarious purposes like drug use. People look for these kinds of places and they are private buildings for the most part. Others are used by squatters.”

Mr Scott said that some other disused Government buildings could be given a new lease of life as focuses for communities, which would create jobs in upgrading work and improve local environments.

He added: “Our priorities are job creation and community renewal — things to help people during these trying and testing times in the economy.”

He added Mr Scott said: “Community development is very important in these times when we want to push against gang involvement. There is a way to deploy assets to promote community activities which help to keep youngsters in healthy activities and exercise.

“We can help here because we own the assets — we own properties and facilities and can approve their use for community facilities.”

Stuart Hayward, president of environmental pressure group BEST, offered qualified support for Mr Scott’s plans to renew disused buildings.

Mr Hayward said: “It would have to be done on a case-by-case basis. There’s been talk for years about rehabilitating old buildings. I understand there are legal and social issues involved in some cases.

“It may be there is a need for a much wider view — to step back and include derelict housing, hotel sites which have been cleared and take a comprehensive look, rather than a piecemeal look at things.

“I couldn’t say if we could support any particular policy until we had an opportunity to examine the proposals.”