New high schools on track

Technology, culture, sports and the environment are only some of the hot topics the team bringing Cayman’s three new high schools to fruition are tackling.

Key players in the project recently reviewed the latest plans for the West Bay, Frank Sound and George Town schools set to replace the existing and outdated John Gray High School.

Representatives from US-based architectural and facilities planning firms joined Ministry officials and Cayman architects OA&D to present the plans to a range of Caymanian stakeholders.

‘We have focused much of our energy and attention on making sure that these new schools serve our long-term goals for education in the Cayman Islands and satisfy the needs of their users and communities,’ said Minister of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture Alden McLaughlin.

‘What is remarkable about the Ministry’s approach to this process is the level and extent of the research and planning which has taken place to manage risk and ensure that these schools are fully workable and fulfil expectations in every way,’ said Ministry Director of Facilities David Smith.

Project plans and drawings were presented to the Cabinet and tabled for discussion with the High School Steering Committee, sports consultants, educators, technology infrastructure experts and telecommunications and food services providers.

A Cultural Advisory Committee has also been appointed to assist with the infusion of Caymanian cultural influences into the design and development of new capital works projects.

‘Through regular meetings with the project team, we have been engaged with reflecting the local environment in the design and ambience of the new schools. We are suggesting the use of artwork, textures and cultural icons to reflect Cayman’s heritage and ethos, so that students will have a connection with these learning spaces,’ said Committee Chair David Martins.

‘As important as it is to reflect Cayman’s rich history, the ideal is to also have schools with a contemporary appeal, which will be relevant for years to come. It doesn’t have to be old-fashioned to be Caymanian.’

Ministry representatives say that while building exteriors of each school are anticipated to be visually unique, the facility and amenity provisions for each of the three sites will be comparable.

The plans also reflect the Ministry’s vision of school designs, which work with changes in the high school curriculum that support different learning styles like project-based learning, individual and collaborative activities and cross-curricular work.

These flexible learning environments include concepts like quiet areas and removable partitions as well as covered outdoor spaces and wireless internet.

Students will also benefit from dedicated research centres, media centres and even a café, designed to promote social interaction and community connections.

Sporting facilities are being carefully considered in the wider context of physical education in the national curriculum and use of the facilities by the public.

Among other features, students will enjoy access to new 25m swimming pools, quality cricket facilities and gymnasiums.

Security and the environment are also being taken into consideration. Energy-saving security devices like motion-activated lighting, enhanced safety and security features and indoor air quality are strategies project designers are looking to use to help students’ academic performance.

‘We are looking closely at sustainable solutions, and thinking carefully not just about introducing efficiencies in how the schools are built, but also in their continuing operations,’ said Danny Owens of OA&D.

Mr. Smith is satisfied that progress on the new schools project is in keeping with the planned schedule.

‘Plans for the John Gray site have already been submitted to the planning department ahead of schedule, and plans for the other two sites are to follow shortly,’ he said.

‘The tendering processes for site preparation and construction are expected to start on schedule in the fall, and we are well on target to have three new fully operational High Schools in use by September 2009.’