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27.02.2007 Regional News

Church demolishes 'heritage building'

By Times
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Adawso House at James Town reputed to be one of the oldest buildings in Accra which the National Commission on Culture (NCC) and three other state institutions were seeking funds to restore as a national monument, has been demolished by the Church of Pentecost, to pave the way for the construction of a chapel.

The church, Times learnt, bought the house, which is said to be the property of the Vanderpuiye family in 2002 at ΒΆ190 million.

Soon after the sale of the house to the church, the NCC, the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly as well as the Musuems and Monuments Board expressed interest to acquire the structure for a national monument.

Officials of the state institutions have therefore expressed surprise at the haste with which the building was demolished since the negotiations were far advanced for acquisition.

They said efforts were being made to get sponsorship from UNESCO and other foreign investors to restore the building as a monument.

Now the over 100 year-old building has been reduced to rubble and when the Times visited the site only some personal effects such as mattresses, pillows and chairs apparently discarded were among the debris.

A member of the household, 75-year-old Thyra Owoo, told our reporter that the house belonged to the Vanderpuiye family, a portion of which was leased to the Church of Pentecost.

Ms. Owoo said later that the then Ministry of Tourism and Modernisation of the Capital City, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, the Museums and Monuments Board and the National Commission on Culture showed interest in the property to be preserved as a monument because of its unique features.

Prof. George Hagan, Chairman of the National Commission on Culture, assured the family that his outfit would refund the money and in addition acquire a new place for the church to enable the building to be preserved.

She expressed her reservations about the way the building was demolished, saying that it was done without prior notice from the church. Members of the household had to rush and call for assistance from neighbours to evacuate their belongings to avoid their being destroyed.

The General Secretary of the Church, Apostle Alfred Koduah, confirmed to the Times that it acquired the property in 2002 to pull the old structures down for the construction of a chapel.

Later, the Museums and Monuments Board expressed interest to take the house back to be used as a national heritage and subsequently the church met with all the stakeholders and agreed on certain terms.

These included payment of ΒΆ40 million to the church for the property considering its appreciation in value since it was bought in 2002, and assistance by the Board and AMA to the church to acquire alternative place since the property was to be acquired for national purposes.

Apostle Koduah said that in January this year, the church received a letter from the solicitors of the Adawso House Trust limited that 'the company which was to finance the heritage project was unable to undertake the project following the failure of the memorandum of understanding between the Trust and the Vanderpuiye family," owners of the property.

"With the abandonment of the project by the Trust and for the fact that the stakeholders were not coming forward in spite of the series of meetings the church had with them, presupposes that the stakeholders were no longer interested in the project hence the church's step to demolish the structure to pave the way for the construction of the chapel,"he said.

The church, he said had no intention whatsoever to be an impediment to or thwart government's efforts or plans to protect the national heritage.

The Works Department of the AMA, however told the Times that the church has not acquired permit to pull down the structure.

Mr. Thomas Agyere, Chief Building Inspector of the Assembly, said it was an offence for anybody to either demolish or build without permit saying that "the step taken by the church constituted an offence and will be dealt with".

Prof. Hagan and Joseph Prempeh Maisie, acting Director of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, said in separate interviews that they were highly surprised at the church's action.

According to them they kept in constant touch, with Adawso house family and the church to keep the negotiations going.

"How will our development partners feel if they hear that the very structure that they have shown interest in has been destroyed?," Prof. Hagan asked.

Mr. Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, also said he was dismayed to hear that the building had been demolished.

Speaking to the Times Mrs. Victoria Antwi-Sarpong, Public Relations Officer of the Ministry said the minister had gone very far with negotiations with foreign partners, including UNESCO to acquire the property to be preserved.

Nii Teiko Tagoe, formerly in charge of planning at the AMA said the structure was earmarked long ago to be used as a historical monument.

He said that even though the church claimed ownership of the structure, it could have exercised patience so that all the parties come to a conclusion or agreement before demolishing the structure.

A source at the AMA also told Times that he was very surprise to hear that the structure was demolished. According to the source, the spate at which historical edifices were being destroyed for the sake of church projects must be looked into.

It cited many industrial institutions that had been taken over in the name of church saying that if those institutions were revamped, it would go a long way to reduce the high unemployment rate in the country particularly among the youth and fresh graduates.

"Although we all go to church, we should as well know that the churches cannot develop or expand their frontiers if the members are not working", the source said.