The blaze could be seen from far.
PHILIPSBURG--The building of Philipsburg Jubilee Library (PJL), marked for demolition after Hurricane Irma, caught on fire on Thursday afternoon. The Fire Department deployed two trucks to the location at the east end of the capital. Entering from W.A. Buncamper Road, the firefighters had the fire under control within hours.
Police spokesman Joe Josepha arrived at the scene to hear from firefighters what they had discovered inside the building. “I have no information yet,” he said, looking on at the teamwork of firefighters going back and forth to the fire trucks. One of them picked up a crowbar and other steel tools and went back inside the building that was merely fuming white grey smoke at that point.
Hurricane Irma practically destroyed PJL on September 6, 2017, and at least 80 per cent of its books and other media. Despite this disaster, and thanks primarily to the unrelenting hard work, dedication, and sacrifices of the library’s staff and others, PJL was able to reopen and continue to offer services to the public.
Those who entered the library’s reception area were welcomed under a ceiling covered with blue tarpaulin. The check-out counter, the media lab, the baby room and the library’s sections for fiction and non-fiction looked like Irma had passed yesterday. When it rained outside it poured inside the library building. One did not need an expert to see why the insurance company declared the building a total loss.
After various pleas from the PJL board and management, Government decided to allocate insurance payments for PJL towards rental payments for the temporary relocation of the library to the Super Plaza building. The availability of the building right across the road from the library’s original location was deemed very convenient from a practical and logistical point of view. The idea was to move over before the start of the 2018 hurricane season to prevent further damage to an important part of St. Maarten’s national heritage and to drastically improve the staff’s working conditions.
The temporary move would allow for the demolition of the remains of PJL and the construction of a completely new, fully hurricane-proof and modern National Heritage Center (NHC) at the original location of PJL. The funding for the construction of this center was included in the World Bank Reconstruction Fund’s initial list.
It was estimated that it would take two to three years to build the new centre that would incorporate PJL, St. Maarten Museum, and St. Maarten Archaeological Center SIMARC. The latter two were even more severely damaged than PJL during Irma. The co-location of these three organisations has been 15 years in the making.
However, the temporary move to the Super Plaza building was ultimately rejected by the Council of Ministers. Moreover, the government informed the NHC Task Force that the funding for the NHC was not on the World Bank’s list of projects to be funded.
While the PJL board continued to request government’s cooperation in moving forward with the plans for protecting the national heritage of St. Maarten, what remains of the former Philipsburg Jubilee Library to date is a building that is ruined beyond repair.
In the meantime, the library “temporarily” relocated to the Adolphus Richardson Building on the Pondfill in March, 2019.
Philipsburg Jubilee Library building fuming smoke on Thursday afternoon, after firefighters had the fire under control.
Police spokesman Joe Josepha looks on as fire crew responds to the fire at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library building on Thursday afternoon.
Fire trucks were positioned at W.A. Buncamper Road, with water pumped from the Salt Pond outlet near the Freedom Fighters roundabout.