FIXED: Clock tower of UTT John S Donaldson Creativity Campus at Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

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John D’s clocks chiming again

By Richard Charan richard.charan@trinidadexpress.com

There is a man planting the land up at Superville Quarry Road, Diego Martin, with a story to tell.

The year after Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence, Raymond Clarke, at age 13, took the boat from St Vincent to meet his mother and settle in Trinidad. He would find a job as a handyman at the John S Donaldson Technical Institute, Port of Spain, embracing his adopted country with such fervour that his nickname would become “Trini”.

When he started work in 1970, the tallest structure in Port of Spain was Salvatori Building, and from the clock tower of John D’s main building, Clarke and his crew had a view of much of the port and city.

Clarke retired last December 12, as the man in charge of the department maintaining the institution. He got a commemorative plaque, and a weed whacker, leaving happy to concentrate on the crops on the hillside near his home.

But that four-dial clock tower was always a source of bother to him. It had chimed the midday hour since the place opened in 1962, but something broke and it went silent in 1978.

Clarke remembered when it happened, and the attempts by successive managers (including Dr Norbert Masson), and some very bright students, to fix the gears that controlled the gong.

The plan to bring in the needed parts from Germany never materialised, but the people of Woodbrook, who had often complained about the noise, were far from disappointed.

The pace of Trinidad’s development accelerated, and the Trinidadian’s concept of time and its importance changed. The clocks were forgotten much like the ones in Arima and San Fernando (both since restored), and that was that.

In May 2012, the facility was rebranded the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) John S Donaldson Creativity Campus. The building got an impressive makeover, after being in decline for many years.

Campus manager Bisnath Johnson, following through on a mandate by the Minister of Science, Technology, and Tertiary Science Fazal Karim, decided that the four-dial clock could become an iconic addition to the city (along with towers at St Mary’s College, Trinity Cathedral, and Queen’s Royal College).

To have the clock modernised, would have cost $200,000, it was estimated. And there was someone with the ability to do it — former Senate president Michael J Williams, “The Timekeeper”, who had fixed the clocks at the Industrial Court building and City Hall, San Fernando, had tendered for the job.

The project was shelved while matters more pressing were pursued, but revisited in February, with a team of academic and corporate staff teaming with graduates and students of the Mechanical and Electrical faculties of the institute. A paper was prepared by the electrical group, which undertook the repair of the chime at its own cost.

The mechanical group found a solution where the internal mechanics were improved from electrical components. A paper was presented to the Executive led by Provost Dr Fazal Ali , which gave the green light to the project, the progress of which was followed by UTT chairman Curtis Manchoon and Minister Karim.

The services of MIC (Metal Industries Co Ltd) were used to repair the broken gears and the team, which involved lecturers Dr Curtis Boodoo and Ashish Ramsawak, worked on off days and weekends to get the job done.

According to the campus, the Mechanical classes between the years 2008 and 2011 are to be recognised for their diagnostic, design and documentation work done as part of their final year dissertations. Among the student who worked on the project: Mark Singh, Riyaad Rasool, Deuel De Lisle Kwasi Lewis, Marlon Farmer, Jonathan Mohammed, and Ryan Alfonso.

It had been hoped that the repair would be completed in time for Shouter Baptist Liberation Day, then Indian Arrival. But the dates passed, along with Emancipation and Independence Day. In the end, project team leader, assistant vice-president — Procurement and Logistics Steven Samlalsingh was told by UTT’s new president, Prof Dyer Narinesingh, that if the repair was not done by Republic Day, it would be retendered.

But on September 23, all four dials moved as one, and clock bell chimed for the first time since the 70s. Total estimated cost: $40,000.

The clock has been chiming on the hour from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. so as not to disturb the ageing community nearby. The old hammer has been located and consideration is being given to install it based on the loudness of the gong.

The clock has maintained accurate time for the past six weeks and, according to Samlalsingh, accolades are pouring in from residents, students and even Williams, the Timekeeper.

Meantime, Raymond “Trini” Clarke said he was informed two weeks ago that the clock was ticking again. He would like the campus to know he is well pleased about this.
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