Guardian’s Richard Lord Interviews Mr. Hart

Contact: Corporate Communications Unit, 627-0083

November 06, 2009

RL: First of all Mr. Hart, I’d like you to tell us in your own words, how do you feel about this project (NAPA) and tell us about the project itself?

CH: Sure. Richard this is a magnificent project. I think anybody who looks at this project with an independent mind will come to the conclusion that it is simply a magnificent addition to this country’s physical landscape. And I think from our stand-point we’re very proud to be associated with it. We feel that it continues in the vein that the Government has set itself, as development goals for Vision 2020. It also falls as I mentioned earlier in the desire by the Government to enhance the entire cultural apparatus which includes the development of a cultural commercial side. It also allows certainly the transition from a teaching to a performing environment for our young artistes and aspiring artistes. And I think it also provides a forum where the most up-to-date and the most technologically advanced facilities are going to be available to young people to enable them, and also an environment where even some of the older legends in this society will get an opportunity to perform in essentially what is a world class environment. And from that stand-point UDeCOTT is tremendously proud of having been associated with the project. It’s our first culture project – we’re immensely proud.

RL: For want of a better word the entertainers, the performers, they have been somewhat critical of the project, saying certain things. What would you like to tell the performers of this country, in light of what we have here now?

CH: Well I’m not aware of the criticisms to be quite candid with you. This brief originally was set in the period ’88 to ’94 (1988-1994) and arising from that brief there were recommendations made with respect to the construction of an Academy for the Performing Arts on this site. And I think what happened is the Government in ’94 or ’95 sorry, to proceed with it. But obviously there was a change of administrations. The project did not go ahead during the last administration and it was brought forward again by Mr. Manning when he returned to Government. From our stand-point, there was tremendous consultation at that time. There was an Inter-Ministry Team comprising very senior technocrats and Ministry officials and subsequently when the project was re-positioned and re-submitted to us to proceed with there was an extensive consultation with a number of people in culture. Arising out of that we moved to a Chinese design based on a couple of reasons. Shanghai Construction Group had just finished the Shanghai Performing Arts Centre. They had done it on time on budget it commands a very prominent place in Shanghai. And so we were more than pleased to see their concepts emerge and realizing that they just built one, we felt that they were more than equipped to deal with the issues and because it was relatively recent we felt that it accommodated a number of considerations from a technological side needed a very advanced design. Arising from that as well, is that there had been a number of consultations after the original design brief in the early 2002, 2003 into 2004 and there actually had been some meetings in St. Ann’s and the Community Development buildings there, with the cultural fraternity, artistic fraternities. So from that stand-point we felt we had nailed down this brief pretty well and of course armed with that brief, this is what evolved. The artistes that have come here to look at it – we’ve had some Calypsonians in, we’ve had certainly Pan Trinbago here. I think that the reaction from everybody has been just as your-self. It’s a bit overwhelming when you first saw it. The first time I saw it completed… you know coming around when it was under construction, you wonder how things are going to fit together and then it all falls into place nicely and I think the reaction has been very favourable. I am yet to have a professional entertainer come in and say he’s dissatisfied with what we have achieved here. I think moreover, the challenge here is going to be the kind of inspiring impressions a building like this makes, to quote Churchill, first we shape our buildings, then the buildings shape us. And I hope that here is where people will be inspired if they have any inclination towards the performing arts.

RL: So you would advise however few they, those who may not be open to it at this time, you would suggest that they welcome it, this facility?

CH: Yes. I have yet. I know initially there were issues made about a lack of consultation.

RL interjects: They expressed some concerns about the size of the stage.

CH: Well the only comment I heard at one time was that it was a small stage, for small people, with small feet. And all I can say to that is that I don’t know of a larger stage in the entire Caribbean. And certainly while, and I made the comment, there may be buildings as nice as this. There may be these kinds of facilities that are out there, that are as nice. I have not seen anything that is nicer! And as a matter of fact when I compare it to some of the Broadway theatres that I’ve been in, this is the far superior facility and I think we can be justifiably proud! It has been done on time and it has been done on budget.

RL: You have a lot of work. You’re involved in a number of companies/agencies. How do you manage all of the work that you do. How do you find time to do all of this?

CH: Well I think what it boils down to is that we have been given a responsibility by the Government. I think it’s up to us to try and manage it as efficiently as we possibly can. Generally what it comes down to – you always find, that as you get close to the end you focus on the next project to finish, just as we are now, we have with the CHOGM coming up and all of these opportunities are for the country to show itself off. And I think from that stand-point various opportunities arise out of that for the country. Even from the last Summit, there has been an increased interest in investing in this country and I think the world environment may not be as conducive to that but still all those players continue to come back into the country and the more we can promote our country, the more that people are going to want to invest here. It’s an extremely stable environment, it has what’s emerging as world class facilities and the more you can extend that – not only to world class office buildings, world class performance and cultural facilities, world class hospitals, police stations, the challenge for UDeCOTT going forward is now to move in to the area of social infrastructure like hospitals, police stations, fire stations. Moreover with the physical infrastructure improving the services, especially going underground. A friend of mine used to be a first officer on a submarine and I remember one time going down into a submarine with him, just going on board and seeing all of these valves and switches and I asked how do you manage? And he said if you look at it all as one thing it becomes daunting, but if you take it hydraulics, armament, navigation, if you take system by system, then it becomes much simpler. And I think that’s essentially what we try to do at UDeCOTT, we try to take it one project at a time and focus on that and having the human resources to focus on them. Some we’ve done really, really well, some we’ve had our challenges with, but again as long as the organization continues to grow and continues to learn from the issues that arise, that’s the progress and I think that we are making progress. We have a very youthful team at UDeCOTT and we certainly hope that the beneficiary of all of this development work accrues to the people. What we hope to see, even from example with Shanghai Construction Group – is that they have come here and there was a comment, I can’t remember from whom, about no local being involved. What we have done is to position and we are going to continue to re-position the fact that more and more local content has to continue to come into these projects. It’s going to allow our people to learn, for example all of the external works and the site works were done by local companies. Terra Forma is doing the landscaping, Jusamco is doing the paving and the kitchens are being outfitted by local companies. So we just have to keep increasing that percentage so these become more joint venture type operations and our people learn from that. To me, that’s the biggest challenge. The methodologies we have developed are starting to show a way that we can achieve these results. The challenge for us is to get more of the local contractors and particularly small and medium contractors in as sub-contractors and then increasing their role with each subsequent project.

RL: So we should see more of that in the coming years?

CH: Oh yes we will see that! I notice that you carried an article in your newspaper about Mr. Tong and we have been discussing that, not only to ensure value added locally, but also to ensure that the technology is transferred and people are learning by doing and working alongside. One of the things we have been discussing with people in the local industry is putting a Finishing School. One of the things you’ll notice in here (NAPA), right away is the high quality of finish work and that applies to a number of the foreign companies and we’ve got to capture that as a skill here and get our people trained particularly in finish trades.

RL:   UDeCOTT is trying to organize that?

CH: Yes among the various foreign companies that are working here right now.

RL: That will come on stream next year?

CH: Well, we’re optimistic late next year, we should be able to see something.

RL: Mr. Hart you said something very interesting about social infrastructure projects, could you elaborate?

CH: Well obviously there are a series of police stations, fire stations, hospitals – Pt. Fortin, the completion of the Oncology Centre at Mt. Hope and we expect very shortly to put Ministry of Health in a position where they can announce those projects.

RL: What would you like to tell the populace about Calder Hart?

CH: Well, you know, I think I’ll just fall back on an old comment that it really is what you do, not so much what you say and I think that what UDeCOTT and Calder Hart as well, really want to be judged on is by the things we do. Everybody is entitled to be judged on their body of work and UDeCOTT’s work speaks for itself. And I think we’ve been set a serious challenge by the Government and I don’t think that we’re going to be found shirking responsibilities. We intend to perform to the very best of our ability and I think as people would have seen, when the Government came into power late 2001, into 2002 we had a situation where we had actually done very little and so it has been a challenge to get us up to that level where these kinds of magnificent structures will happen just like that, but there’s certainly within that body of experience I think more developing now and I think the Government will begin to expect more. One of the areas we’ve got to get into is the renovation of our older structures and we certainly intend to be there with that – you can the building Knowsley right across. What was opportune about that was that the Chinese were constructing this building so it made it easier for them, I’m not so sure if it had been somewhere far removed it would have been such an easy task. But it was easy for them to do it. We’ve got also renovation of the Red House, Whitehall, President’s House and we’ve got to bring the same kind of developed skill set that we have evolved into with the building of new buildings into the rehabilitation of existing ones. Even when you look at buildings like this (NAPA), the Waterfront, the Prime Minister’s Residence, we’ve got Chancery Lane at an advanced stage in San Fernando, I think what you’re going to see is that with every project we get better and of course there’s Brian Lara and we expect to be commissioning Brian Lara Cricket Academy very shortly, so when people see that and how it has evolved into a wonderful facility and I think people will be proud of it.

RL: Is UDeCOTT here to stay?

CH: And I believe UDeCOTT is here to stay!

UDeCOTT is developing the structures that form part of the innovation for lasting
prosperity; the development plan of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.