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Wednesday 19th December 2012

The Government of Antigua and Barbuda announced the Clarence House Restoration Project last week.

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There was levity in the air Wednesday, and it combined with pride, purpose and a sense of accomplishment to create a feel good moment as the Clarence House Restoration Project was launched at the site.

The project, which will restore the state house and the gardens to its onetime majesty, is being funded by a US $3 million grant from Peter Harrison and the Harrison Foundation.

Harrison, a sailor who has visited the country annually since his maiden outing in Antigua Sailing Week in1995, has also committed to a US $1.5 million loan to construct a new harbour that will accommodate up to 10 super yachts at any given time.

The British benefactor, it was also revealed Wednesday, has funded the expansion of the National Sailing Academy at satellite locations at Jolly Harbour and Parham. The programme's roots are in English Harbour.

Chairman of the National Parks Authority Claude Anthony, who expressed gratitude to Harrison, called the moment "joyous.

He said a restored Clarence House, once home to naval dockyard commissioners, governors of the Leeward Islands, as well as a honeymoon spot for royalty, will bring great benefits to residents and visitors alike.

A jovial Harrison, whose 115-foot yacht, Sojana, was the overall Antigua Sailing Week winner this year, joked that National Parks Commissioner Anne-Marie Martin pitched the Clarence House project at the right psychological moment.

To be clear, Harrison said he was initially hesitant, informing Martin that his UK-based charity has a focus on supporting sporting activities and projects that provide opportunities for disabled and other disadvantaged individuals.

He quickly added, "Obviously, I must have been so mighty pleased having won the Lord Nelson Trophy." Of his expectation for the end product, Harrison said he is expecting the "wow factor."
Trustee of the Clarence House Trust Dr. Reginald Murphy expressed confidence that the finished product would rival any heritage site in the world. In painting a picture of what will be -- stately inside, botanical splendor outside -- he referenced Jamaica's famed historical landmark Devon House and said Clarence House would be better.

"We have a project here that we can surpass every island in the Caribbean if we can get it right," Dr. Murphy added.

Featured speaker Minister Finance Harold Lovell, meanwhile, noted the economic and historic importance of the project.

He, too, expressed heartfelt gratitude to Harrison, saying "for him to have donated three million US, I wonder if we can really understand the magnitude of his generosity and the significance of the gift."

"We are looking at another serious step and milestone as Antigua and Barbuda takes another step towards World Heritage status for Nelson's Dockyard," the minister said.

A timeline of 12 months was given for the project, which will be managed by the National Parks Authority. MP for the area, Eleston Adams, who was also fulsome in praise for the donation and the work by the National Parks Authority, issued a plea for residents of St. Paul to be considered for jobs.

Andrew Goodenough has replaced an ailing Junie Davis as the engineer, Dr. Murphy noted. He also said the labour force would come primarily from the team responsible for the upkeep of the dockyard.
Praising their artisanship and lamenting its scarcity, the archaeologist announced that the Clarence House project would have an apprenticeship programme, in concert with the Ministry of Education.

"Everyone who works with the project will be certified by the Ministry of Education in historical site restoration and, as such, care consideration will be placed in the recruitment process," Dr. Murphy said.

Clarence House was built in 1804-1806 for the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV, who served under Horatio Nelson as a captain, Hurricanes in 1998 dismantled the verandas off two sides of the house, causing damaged to the stone walls and roof. Termites also wreaked havoc with the wooden aspects of the structure.

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