Schools’ date pushed back

Grand Cayman’s three new high schools will open a year behind schedule, but otherwise Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said the projects are on track.

Originally slated to open in September, 2009, the schools are now expected to open one year later, in September, 2010.

‘The schools were a go, we just had to find a way to make it happen, and the way was to push the construction programme back a year,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

The schools’ construction was delayed in part because, as the Caymanian Compass reported last week, the Cayman Islands Government is projecting a revenue shortfall of $20 million to $25 million for the budget year, which begins 1 July. Because it was faced with reprioritising capital expenditure, government had to decide to defer some projects and abandon others.

Minister McLaughlin said the Education Ministry also had to deal with the reality that the schools were going to cost a lot more than originally expected.

He said all of the bids, including the successful proposals for the Clifton Hunter campus at Frank Sound Road and the new John Gray campus in George Town came in significantly over the Ministry’s pre-estimated tender, and there was more than one company that bid on each school.

‘It’s the same hold up that has plagued this process all along. It’s taken much longer than expected because we’ve needed longer time to prepare the tenders,’ said the Minister.

‘Also, we’ve encountered some design problems, again, relating to cost.’

Mr. McLaughlin said the Ministry looked hard at how to save money on the schools’ construction.

The rescheduling is designed to spread the cost of the schools over an additional budget year, although Mr. McLaughlin said he expects that the schools may be completed as early as July or August 2010.

Of the three contracts, only the one for Beulah Smith High School in West Bay is still outstanding.

At press time, the Ministry was in negotiation with the bidder for the Beulah Smith campus.

‘If that doesn’t pan out, we go to the number two choice,’ said Mr. McLaughlin.

‘And if that isn’t successful either, I’ll look at whether we have to re-bid the school. Even if it takes another two or three months for me to get a viable contract, September 2010 is still very realistic.’

He said the cost of the Beulah Smith School is anticipated to come in ‘quite a few million less’ than the Clifton Hunter campus at Frank Sound, which was expected to cost less than $57 million.

All schools will take on a modular design, divided into 250-student academies housed in two-storey pods linked to other campus buildings by covered walkways, gymnasiums, cricket-size multipurpose playing fields and multi-use global learning centres.

The John Gray campus will be constructed on the existing John Gray school site in George Town. It will initially house 1,000 students, meaning four pods will be constructed. The new John Gray School was priced at less than $59 million.

At the Beulah Smith Campus in West Bay, the buildings housing the school’s academies will surround the existing Jimmy Powell cricket oval, which will be incorporated into the school grounds. Two pods housing 500 students will be constructed in this first phase, and more pods will be added as needs arise.

The new Clifton Hunter Campus will be constructed immediately south of the Frank Sound Road fire station. Three pods are slated for construction, to house 750 students.

Both of these latter campuses will also feature 25-metre swimming pools.