Harquail Theatre battles on with repairs

Almost two years after Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, the Harquail Theatre – which was ravaged in the storm – remains out of action, with lengthy ongoing repairs still scheduled.

The Cayman National Cultural Foundation – responsible for managing and co-ordinating repairs – originally planned to have the theatre up and running by mid this year. Managing director Marcia Muttoo explained that repairs, estimated in the region of $3 million, are taking longer than first anticipated.

‘We were perhaps too optimistic with our original estimate,’ Mrs. Muttoo said, adding that they hope to have the theatre open by the end of this year, coinciding with the facility’s 20th anniversary in December.

‘There has not been one specific thing that has put us behind schedule,’ Mrs. Muttoo said. ‘We have been very careful to make sure all details for the tendering process are correct as we wanted to gather complete and specific information for an accurate and competitive quote.

‘There are also not a lot of mechanical and structural experts on the island and many are working on multiple projects.’

The theatre suffered extensive damage in the storm and required complete gutting. Much of the standing seam roof was lost in the catastrophic storm and the interior was flooded with five-feet of seawater resulting in a large damp problem.

A new roof was installed in March/April and all the mould remediation is now complete, Mrs. Muttoo said.

She added: ‘A specialist team, as well as an independent team were drafted in to check the air-quality and we have recently been informed that it has passed.

‘As it is a building used by the public we wanted to make sure no one would be exposed to mould.’

She added: ‘We have had to wait until the building is completely dry before starting on any internal repairs.’

The studio/workshop building – used for rehearsals, set building, conferences and exhibitions – was even harder hit during the storm, however the CNCF are keen to get the main theatre building up and running first.

The contract is in the process of going to tender and Mrs. Mutto hopes that work on the interior – sheetrock, electrical and plumbing – will start as soon as possible, with contractors to be confirmed shortly.

The CNCF has already made preliminary enquiries with the manufactures of specialist equipment such as lighting, theatre seats and rigging. These will be ordered to coincide with the completion of the main body of the work.

Mrs. Muttoo said that although not all the insurance money is in hand, the CNCF has the commitment of the ministry of culture and risk management.

‘The ministry has been in contact with us throughout the process as they need accurate figures,’ she said.

The Harquail Theatre, designed by award winning architect John Doak and out-fitted by London-based firm Theatre Projects, was erected in 1986 at a cost of US$4 million.

The facility was built with the generosity of Mrs. Helen Harquail in memory of her late husband, Mr. F. J. Harquail and was used to host a range of events from art exhibitions, graduation ceremonies, plays and conferences, as well as being home to the CNCF.

Since the storm, the CNCF has been temporarily located at Elizabethean Square.

‘We are aware there are people waiting for the theatre to open,’ Mrs. Muttoo said. ‘The CNCF has struggled for space over the last couple of years and we understand the difficulties that many event organisers face.’

Mrs. Mutto confirmed that the theatre will be restored to its former glory, however there will be some minor changes in line with planning requirements, including wheel-chair access. The library and archive will also be moved to a more elevated area in the theatre to avoid future flooding.

The seating capacity of 330 will remain the same, Mrs. Mutto said.

‘Some people have asked if we are going to expand the seating capacity,’ she said. ‘It is very interesting that people are asking this. When the theatre first opened 20 years ago people were alarmed at the number of seats, they never thought that we would ever be able to fill them. It goes to show how much the interest in the arts has grown.’

Mrs. Mutto added that she does not believe the insurance covers the landscaping of the grounds. ‘We may just have to tidy it up a bit. We hope someone, or members of the public, will come forward to assist us with this to enable us to restore the theatre to its former glory.’

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