From the outset, it was ill-conceived, ill-constructed and break-the-bank unaffordable for a small island nation.
To date the price tag of the sprawling educational facility has undergone perpetual upward revision, now officially standing at $110 million, more than double the 2008 pre-tender cost estimate for construction of $44.8 million.
The new $110 million figure was revealed (it might as well have been whispered) in particularly discreet fashion by Ministry of Education Deputy Chief Officer Christen Suckoo under questioning by lawmakers on the Public Accounts Committee. That meeting took place in September 2013, but the transcripts weren’t tabled until last week as part of the Public Accounts Commmittee’s review of the auditor general’s report on public project procurement. The $110 million includes, in Mr. Suckoo’s words, “approximately $6 million worth of corrective works that needed to be done” after the building was supposedly “completed.”
In another context, East End MLA Arden McLean recently remarked, “The sins of the past governments, we will pay for them forever and ever.”
Mr. McLean is absolutely correct, and he should know since he was an integral part of the PPM government which shackled this country to a future of penurious indebtedness in exchange for Clifton Hunter, the Government Administration Building, an ambitious road-building program, a vacant lot in West Bay reserved for the new Beulah Smith High School, and the derelict construction site in George Town the government still promises will become the new John Gray High School.
And, of course, the costs of the PPM’s profligacy continue. According to Mr. Suckoo, operating expenses of Clifton Hunter (with its water-thirsty athletic fields) are estimated to be a recurring (and no doubt, escalating) $2.4 million per year.
It’s hard to imagine anyone claiming Cayman achieved “value for money” by spending $110 million on a school that serves 840 students. The furthest Mr. Suckoo would venture is that, in his opinion, “the jury is still out,” saying that would be determined by the level of improvement in student performance.
Frankly, we think the jury is in, and its verdict is harsh: future decades of burdensome debt for this tiny country.
Unlike government, we see almost no correlation between building an extravagant high school campus and students achieving academic precocity. That’s the equivalent of thinking that building an unaffordable cathedral will get you into Heaven.
Consider the example of Suncoast Community High School, which is located in Palm Beach, Florida. Suncoast is consistently ranked as one of the top high schools in the United States.
The campus, which opened in 2010, is roughly twice the size of Clifton Hunter, serves nearly twice the number of students, and yet cost only $67 million to build — 60 percent of Clifton Hunter’s cost. The Internet is brimming with similar examples of schools much larger than Clifton Hunter being built for far less money, and achieving far superior results.
Schools, indeed, are constructed for the teaching of lessons, and we sincerely hope that Clifton Hunter has taught the PPM government a lesson in the immutable laws of finance.
It’s been a very expensive lesson indeed.