In its first year of operation, Grand Cayman’s Clifton Hunter High School incurred some $6 million in repair costs and an additional $2.4 million in operational expenses.
The total cost of building and repairing Clifton Hunter High School in the Frank Sound area of Grand Cayman – $110 million – includes the repair costs but does not include the annual operating expenses.
The expenses were revealed last fall in the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. The records for the hearing were recently released in government Hansards.
According to Ministry of Education officials who testified before the committee on Sept. 18, 2013, the total price tag for Clifton Hunter was $110 million “inclusive of legal proceedings and correction of bad work.”
The $6 million in corrective work included $1.4 million in remediation to concrete, $2.8 million in repairs for mechanical, electrical and plumbing facilities, floor and structural repairs of some $1.6 million, and what were termed “miscellaneous site defects” of about $84,000.
The ministry’s acting chief officer Christen Suckoo informed the committee that annual operating costs were around $2.4 million.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush questioned what “structural” defects had been identified at the school, which opened in fall 2012.
“We had issues of windows not being square and there were several corrections made to make sure that all of the windows in the building were squared,” Mr. Suckoo said. “We also had structural issues with roofing that needed to be corrected.”
George Town MLA Winston Connolly asked why the entire project had come in so far over budget. The original “final” contracts for the new John Gray and Clifton Hunter high schools in June 2008 were for $56.7 million to build Clifton Hunter and $59.9 million for John Gray, for a total of just more than $116 million.
The cost of building Clifton Hunter estimated in September 2013 reached nearly what the government had originally estimated it would pay to build both new high schools.
“There is evidence that the original pre-tender estimate was low,” Mr. Suckoo said. “The project is a sophisticated undertaking.”
Mr. Suckoo pointed out that the new government administration building in downtown George Town is 233,000 square feet, compared to the Clifton Hunter project, which was about 160,000 square feet.
Government officials estimated the total cost of building Clifton Hunter at about $704 per square foot, including litigation claims and settlements over the project. The cost per square foot for the government office building was estimated at $343.
“[The government admin building] was a single building with all of the mechanical systems housed in one place, whereas the high school project [includes] modular multi-storied multi-buildings on one site. [There is a] sophisticated chill water system, sophisticated circulation system, top-class fields, which need to be irrigated.
“When you undertake something like that, there is a cost to pay for it.
“The jury is out on value for money,” Mr. Suckoo continued. “While we have a price tag of $110 million, we also have category 5 [hurricane] rated buildings, we have buildings that are built to withstand seismic activity, we have the football field….we have the performing arts center, the community-use aspect of the buildings has to be taken into consideration.
“We need more data in terms of numbers of years of students passing through the school before we determined what the real impact is on the quality of education.”
George Town MLA Joey Hew asked if, following the departure of the original schools contractor, Tom Jones International, there had been changes to project plans.
Mr. Suckoo said there had been some changes to accommodate an increasing number of students and to address “what the previous administration viewed as being design flaws in terms of quality of teaching and learning.” The government’s schools project manager, Tommy Ebanks, explained further: “The changes were basically soundproofing and putting up partitions within the learning academies to basically buffer sound. Previously it was an open-plan environment and the teachers thought that walls would be the best way of actually doing that.
“In addition to that, on the technology building, it was basically an open-plan environment…housing art, technology, woodwork, metalwork and auto mechanics, with just basically sound curtains being installed. Those were the two major changes that basically did escalate the cost of it as well.”
Mr. Bush then questioned the operating costs of the school.
The operating costs generally include janitorial, security services, electric and water bills and servicing technical equipment at the school.
Mr. Suckoo said the operating costs were comparable to what government was paying for the John Gray campus [currently housed at the former George Hicks High School in George Town]. Annual operating costs there are about $2.2 million.
Mr. Bush also questioned whether there had been any business case studies completed prior to the construction bids going out for Clifton Hunter and John Gray high schools.
Mr. Suckoo responded that a business case was done, but it was his understanding that it “was not located.”
“We are aware that there were several scoping documents done, several concept documents done by the ministry for discussion with the Minister [of Education] and also at Cabinet level,” he said. “The Cabinet was aware of what was happening with the project.”