Demolition of historical courthouse starts Monday
The demolition of the historic Apia Courthouse will begin on Monday.
One of the last standing historical buildings in Samoa, the courthouse has stood since 1902.
The tender for the project has been awarded to Schwartz Construction Limited for the amount of $72,990.
The Managing Director of the company, Alai’asa Schwartz Hunt, told the Samoa Observer the location is set for the Samoa International Finance Authority’s (S.I.F.A.) new building.
It is unclear whether the Schwartz Company was the only bidder.
Efforts to get comments from S.I.F.A. and the Chairman of the Tenders Board, Sili Epa Tuioti, were unsuccessful.
But Alaiasa said they are not going to damage the building’s raw materials and intends to rebuild a replica of the original.
He told the Samoa Observer that he plans to restore the building with a replica of the site with a view to possibly running it as a tourist enterprise.
“We have plans to relocate the building but we’re currently looking for land in town to do it. My dream is to rebuild a replica of the original building,” Alaiasa said.
“I want to return it to its former glory. We have plans to relocate the building but we’re currently looking for land in town to do it. My dream is to rebuild a replica of the original building. I want to return it to its former glory.
“I see this as an opportunity and with the support of my wife and children, I’m excited about this new venture.
"It's every builder and architect's dream to discover how this building was built by the Germans as we don't have the same skills as it was back then.
“My two older sons and I are builders and we have two sons studying architecture. So this will be a family project.”
He said the building is an authentic example of colonial-era architecture that can no longer be found. The building was constructed by German colonial administrators.
“We're excited to uncover what lies beneath and we're not going to just get a machine and bulldoze the whole thing down,” Alaiasa said.
“We're going to painstakingly pull apart piece by piece each material until we finish and the plan is to salvage as much as possible for the rebuilding".
Alaia’sa said he was respectful of the building’s history.
"I don't get emotional or go sentimental over properties. When we die we leave everything behind,” he said.
“But I'm of German descent as you can tell by my name Schwartz via my great grandfather who was based in Tutuila working for the U.S Navy there. My great grandmother from Faleapuna met him in Tutuila and they lived there but he never came to Samoa.
“But all of us we’re all born here. A lot of us grew up and resonate with events that took place at this building. It's the oldest building from colonial times remaining on island.
“Many historical milestone events leading to our country's independence took place here. It's the same post-independence.”
Alai’asa noted the ongoing community campaign to save the building but said that it would come with a high cost.
“Whilst I empathise with them, Government has [the] sole prerogative to decide on the fate of the building and I have no business going there nor am I going to get drawn into any debate.”
Alai’asa said when the S.I.F.A. advertised the tender to demolish the building, he saw an opportunity.
“And this is my way of saving the building; is turning it to an investment. The rebuilding, obviously of a smaller scale, will be funded solely by my company and I'll do it in my own time and pace. There's no rush,” he said.
“We plan to turn the resurrected building so to speak to an investment in tourism, so it will be attached to our Resort, Leuaina Seaside Resort at Faleapuna.
“Our current plan is to dedicate a section of the building to Samoa's road to independence, consisting of photo collages and other mementoes. Another section will be for private functions and conferences. I love my coffee so there will be a kofe place as well. So the new building will serve as a mixture of tourism, educational and entertainment,” he said.
Alaia’sa said they are now in possession of the site now and plan to start the demolition works next Monday.
“We have eight weeks under the contract to do it. All materials will be stored at our warehouse for now until we rebuild."
Several groups fought to keep the building including Academic and Historian, Professor Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea.
As reported earlier, Leasiolagi said losing the historical building will mean Samoa will lose an important part of its heritage.
He was a member of the previous Court House Trust that worked on a project to turn the Old Court House into a living heritage. The Trust was established in 2010 with the support from German and N.Z. Governments, and with technical assistance from UNITEC Institute of Technology to conduct a feasibility study for the preservation of Court House.
Following the feasibility study, Leasiolagi said a sum of $20 million was required to repair the timber structures of the German colonial designed building.
The Government argues that the poor condition of the building has continued to degrade over the years and the estimated cost of its annual upkeep is growing.
“After meeting for so many years we just couldn’t get anybody to finance the repair that we needed,” he said.
“Unfortunately the deterioration accelerated and the last report from [the] engineer we had it was too late to repair and the best option is to try and build something at least a similar façade.”
Earlier this year an online petition and last minute effort was made to save the building.
“It is the place where the German flag was lowered for the British flag to be raised. This is also the very spot where Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III (the leader of the Mau Movement) was fatally shot by New Zealand Police while leading a peaceful protest,” Mr. Unasa said.
The courthouse was designed by Albert Schaafhausen, the then Government architect, and built by master builder Friedrich Stunzner in 1902.
The courthouse was opened in 1903 for the German colonial administration from 1900 to 1914.
It was later taken over by the New Zealand occupying forces in 1914 and was used as an administration office. It became the Government’s own courthouse and seat of the Prime Minister after the Independence in 1962.
The Prime Minister’s office was located in the courthouse and Cabinet meetings were held in the first floor till 1993. A second courtroom was added on the ground floor.
Some years later, the national Museum occupied the upper floor of the western wing from May 1999 until July 2008. The courthouse has no longer been in use since 2010 after the inauguration of the new Ministry of Justice building in Mulinu’u.