Planned future presidential residence awaiting renovation decision
While much attention has been paid to former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' Ärma Farm in recent weeks, Estonia has yet to build a formal presidential residence which would be used by the head of state exclusively during their term of office and house both representative rooms as well as living quarters for the president and their family.
Estonia's first president, Konstantin Päts, lived in Kadriorg Palace, which currently houses Kadriorg Art Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia. Following the restoration of Estonia's independence in 1991, the country's subsequent presidents thus far had resided in an apartment located in a building in Kadriorg which Päts had built as his administrative building. The President of Estonia does not have their own, separate residence; the apartment in Kadrioru consists of two bedrooms and a bathroom.
"I think that a good part of the debate which has come up regarding the presidents' residences so far wouldn't exist if the state offered such a service to the head of state elected into office," said Siim Raie, director general of the National Heritage Board and former director of the Office of the President.
The development of the Liberty manor complex into a new residence for the Estonian head of state first came up in 2011, when President Toomas Hendrik Ilves was elected to his second term of office and the Office of the President began looking for suitable buildings.
The Liberty manor complex in Tallinn's Rocca al Mare neighborhood is to become the future residence of the President of Estonia, housing both representative rooms as well as living quarters for the president and their family. The property includes seven buildings and the foundations of an eighth. When renovations on the buildings would begin, however, remains uncertain.
"The first and biggest of the buildings was meant to be a so-called reception house, or representative rooms, which according to various calculations could host a dinner, reception or other festive event for up to one hundred people," explained Raie. "One building was meant purely for the housing of the president's family — as living quarters. One building was meant to be a guesthouse — precisely for when the state is visited by high-level guests. And a fourth building would be a service building."
The manor building has stood empty for the past 30 years. Prior to that it housed a pioneer camp, which is why few historical details inside the house have been preserved and the house itself is not in very good shape.
State realty firm Riigi Kinnisvara AS (RKAS) took over the Koch family Liberty summer manor, which dates back to the 19th century and previously belonged to the Estonian Open Air Museum, in 2014.
"There are such classic problems that are typical of woden houses," said RKAS Director of Development Timo Aarma. "There is damage from moisture, dry rot and other such issues. There have also been fires caused here and there by unlawful inhabitants. You might say that they are essentially obsolete buildings which must be restored just about from scratch as they are architectural monuments."
The state has given the green light to its financing decision. Engineering designs have been completed, however a construction procurement at the beginning of the year fell through after all offers submitted exceeded the expected budget by at least one million euros. RKAS is now awaiting opinions from the Office of the President regarding if and how to cut down n the project.
"I have to admit that the Office of the President has not yet reached a definitive position [on the matter]," commented Tiit Riisalo, the recently appointed new director of the Office of the President. "The President of the Republic has decided that she and her family will remain living in their own home in Nõmme. And we have been engaged in ensuring her safety there, in cooperation with the Personal Protection Bureau of the Central Criminal Police. Everything is set with that. The president's working conditions are ensured right here in Kadriog Palace."
Of Estonia's neighbors, the President of Finland has two official residences in Helsinki and a summer residence near Turku, while an official residence was built for the President of Latvia in Jūrmala a few years ago.