Today’s Editorial for November 18: Schools a mess

Even since the tendering process for the Clifton Hunter and John Gray high schools, there have been rumblings of problems.

In May of last year, we heard how Tom Jones International bid $25 million less than the only other bidder, leading to speculation that there would be large cost overruns on the project.

The following month we learned that the timeline for construction of the schools was changed post-tender and that one of the main reasons another major contractor – Arch and Godfrey – did not bid on the project was that it felt it couldn’t meet the original timeline.

We also learned then that technical people in the Ministry of Education, then headed by MLA Alden McLaughlin, had informed the Central Tenders Committee that Arch and Godfrey didn’t have the technical capacity to build the schools, even though it had been a leading contractor in the Cayman Islands for decades.

Despite the questions, the jobs went forward.

A year later, after the general election, the new government has found the two projects fraught with problems. The contractor has now walked of one of the jobs twice and the other once, and the much needed schools projects are idle.

We hear the government – despite the terrible economy – made 85 change orders costing some $17 million and that some of the change orders involved, according to the contractor, a ‘four-star gourmet kitchen and a state-of-the-art recording studio that would have been suitable for producing the Beatles greatest hits’.

We hear that the schools’ project manager left before a shovel of dirt was dug and was not replaced until recently, leading to ‘catastrophic’ consequences to government’s coffers and the projects themselves.

Despite the problems, the importance of the projects and a combined fit-out cost that will surpass CI$150 million, the auditor general has been strangely silent on the matter. That is very unfortunate, because it seems like we might have a true disaster on our hands.