The Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) has served an eviction notice on the Chaguaramas Military Museum, even though the museum's owners have a Cabinet note issued in 1991 granting them a 30-year lease.The CDA is claiming to be committed to the museum, but wrote to its management on September 6 giving notice that the museum would be evicted by October 6.The CDA wants the site to expand its boardwalk.
Asked why an eviction notice had been served, with seven years of the agreed lease remaining, Joycelin Hargreaves, CEO of the CDA, said: "We want to assure the public we are fully committed to the museum and the service it provides. We are trying to work out the best location for the museum. Their plans for development are not consistent with our plans."Asked what the plans were for the site where the museum has stood for 23 years, she said the area had been "earmarked for a development of the boardwalk."
The owners of the museum have rejected the offer of another site near the military rifle range, saying moving there would cost $25 million.The museum, founded by decorated WWII commander Gaylord Kelshall and his wife Linda, houses artifacts representing the military eras of T&T from the Spanish 16th and 17th century onwards. Kelshall is in poor health after a stroke and his wife runs the museum.
History buff and T&T Guardian columnist Angelo Bissesarsingh described the museum as being "selflessly put at the disposal of the T&T public, almost as a charity. Commander Kelshall did it all using his own resources."The CDA has proposed a new site in Grandwood, on the edge of a military rifle range. There is no building at the site to house a museum, but Hargreaves said there was "infrastructure."
But Linda Kelshall said when she was taken on a tour of the proposed new site, 200 feet above the main road, all she saw was bush. She rejected the proposed site as unworkable and unsatisfactory.The Kelshalls estimate the cost of moving the artefacts and relocating them would come to $25 million, and building a new museum would cost upwards of $150 million.Linda Kelshall told the T&T Guardian: "Unless they give us the $25 million it would cost us to move, we are not moving. Pay us and we will move.
"The CDA has told us that if we move to Grandwood they would issue us a new 30-year lease. We consider that blackmail."The CDA addressed the cost of relocation in a statement issued yesterday, saying: "If there is a cost issue, the CDA will work collaboratively with the museum to support the institution's ongoing vision as an important stakeholder on the peninsula."
Minister of Planning Bhoe Tewarie said he had chaired consultative meetings between the museum and the CDA, and resolving the matter was down to negotiations between the two parties."It's an important museum, a voluntary initiative and I want a reasonable resolution," he said.
What the Cabinet note says
Cabinet by Minute No. 1888 dated October 17, 1991, written by the general manager of the CDA and signed by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Planning and Mobilisation, agreed to approve: "The grant of a 30-year lease in respect of approximately 1.4 hectares (3.45 acres) of land at Carenage Bay, Chaguaramas, to the Military History, Model Engineers and Builders Society of T&T for the development of a military history and aviation museum at no cost to the society for the first five years, at the end of five years the lease will be reviewed with a view to determining the appropriate charge to the society."
No review or determination of the "appropriate rent" referred to in the Cabinet note ever took place and the museum has remained on the site rent-free for 23 years. The annual costs of running the museum are almost $1 million, according to its owners, and are barely covered by revenues achieved via admission fees.