More schools issues arise

Education Minister Rolston Anglin said last week that two new public high schools being built in George Town and Frank Sound lack the necessary space to accommodate all the students they are expected to serve.

‘The…two new high schools will not provide sufficient places to meet the number of places the chief education officer says will be needed when they open,’ Mr. Anglin told the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

However, former Education Minister and Opposition MLA Alden McLaughlin pointed out that the current administration had scaled back on some of the school projects, and may have caused the space crunch by doing so.

‘Has the minister created the problem by deciding not to proceed with certain buildings at John Gray and Clifton Hunter (high schools)?’ Mr. McLaughlin asked.

‘That’s a fair question,’ Mr. Anglin replied, adding that the issue is one that existed before any decisions were made about adding a fourth academy at the Clifton Hunter site.

He said government was hopeful that a fourth academy would be completed at the John Gray site or that another building could still be constructed at the Frank Sound work site.

But the minister wasn’t making any promises.

‘This country is in a financial bind…we have had the (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to deal with in terms of borrowing,’ he said. ‘If it had not been for the waste that was created, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. We could have had our two high schools and had money left over for other schools too.’

Mr. Anglin told the assembly that the two schools, the new John Gray campus in George Town and Clifton Hunter campus in Frank Sound, were expected to cost at least CI $120 million to complete construction. Those costs do not include the outfits for the interior of the schools such as furniture.

The minister said the previous government had engaged in excess that led to wasteful spending. He gave examples of an unnecessary music recording studio being designed for Clifton Hunter, and school kitchen equipment that cost $750,000 for each high school.

Mr. Anglin said there was no one designated as the overall project manager for the two schools when he took over the Education Ministry. He said the core team consisted of a former facilities manager with help from a deputy chief officer who was a lawyer by trade. Those two staffers were supported by ‘a variety of consultants,’ Mr. Anglin said.

The arrangement that existed before he arrived, Mr. Anglin said, involved a project manager who ‘flew to the Islands on occasion’ from the US with the government meeting all expenses.

The fate of the third high school, the Beulah Smith campus in West Bay, remains unclear despite the fact that nearly CI $2 million was spent on site works at that location in the previous budget year. The prior government was forced to delay the construction schedule for the West Bay school because of rapidly falling public sector revenues.

Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said Thursday that Cayman was forced to postpone payments on certain government projects to ensure there was enough money in the budget to pay civil servants’ salaries in August. He did not specify which projects had cash withheld from them.

Mr. Bush has previously said government would honour all its financial commitments for on-going construction projects, which include the two schools and the $85 million government office accommodation project in George Town.

The new high school campuses in George Town and Frank Sound have been scheduled to open in 2010.