School project back in business

Although he admitted there are still some issues to be resolved, Cayman Islands Education Minister Rolston Anglin acknowledged this week that work on the new John Gray High School was back on track.

school project

John Gray High School construction site in September.
Photo: Sherry Vanwey

The project contractor, Tom Jones International, who walked off the job on 25 September, returned to the John Gray work site on Thursday, 1 October following payment of some outstanding claims by government.

One of the key subcontractors, Caribbean Mechanical (High Schools Ltd.) 2008, has also returned to the site which is across from the University College of the Cayman Islands campus in George Town, the Caymanian Compass has learned.

Mr. Anglin said negotiations were still under way with Tom Jones International about some $15 to $17 million of work still in dispute in the John Gray project as well as the new Clifton Hunter school project in Frank Sound.

‘Some of those have not even been looked at as yet,’ Mr. Anglin said, pointing out there were some 87 requests for change orders on the school projects. He said a construction expert had been hired on as a consultant to resolve those disputes as soon as possible. The two schools were originally expected to cost just under CI$120 million combined, exclusive of fixtures and furnishings.

A spokesman for the Tom Jones said earlier this month that the firm was hopeful all remaining project issues could be resolved.

Even though work on the school projects has resumed, some concerns were expressed during Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee about whether those two new schools would have adequate space to contain Cayman’s entire public high school population.

The new John Gray High School will house four separate student academies, each with the ability to house 250 students. The Clifton Hunter School will have three academies with the same capability.

However, Mr. Anglin agreed that the country’s public school population may increase sharply over the next year partly because the country’s population is increasing.

The economy might also be playing a role.

‘There have been an increasing number of students being transferred into government schools from the private school system,’ Mr. Anglin told the assembly Monday.

Originally, the Cayman Islands government had proposed to open three new high schools, with the third campus being in West Bay. The Beulah Smith High School would have allowed capacity for another 500 students.

Plans for the Beulah Smith campus had to be delayed because of budget shortfalls in the previous financial year.

Mr. Anglin said government was considering whether it would be feasible to open a fourth academy, to house an additional 250 students at the Clifton Hunter High School site. He estimated that might add some $7 million in costs to that construction project.

Former Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said student numbers ‘would not have been tight at all’ under the initial proposal being considered by the previous People’s Progressive Movement government.

‘But I believe everyone in the country will understand there are serious challenges on government’s ability to finance these projects,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.

Backbench MLA Cline Glidden, Jr. also pointed out during Finance Committee that there had apparently been no model or estimates done for what the recurring or operating costs of the two new high schools would be once they opened.

‘We can safely assume that (model) doesn’t exist?’ Mr. Glidden asked.

‘The member’s assessment is an accurate one,’ Mr. Anglin said.