The unaffordable lessons of
 Clifton Hunter

Along the roadside of Cayman Islands history, milestones emerge marking events of everlasting significance: One such milestone, we believe, is Clifton Hunter High School.

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.

1 COMMENT

  1. Triple C School cost was 5million . There are about 540 students. Can’t remember teachers salary. Education from school was excellent . Most children went onto higher education. Most students went onto successful careers. I believe all private schools were better value for money then public schools. It was better value for money for the country also. So sad.

  2. What value is there in stating the obvious, especially when digging up the past ? The mis- management of this project cannot be denied, but it cannot be reversed, so let’s just get on with it, and make sure that we don’t repeat the mistake in future Capital projects. Meanwhile, let’s remember the scores of millions of dollars committed by the UDP to the Turtle Farm, which does nothing for anybody except it’s employees, and requires 9 MILLION a year of government funds, just to keep the gates open. What about the Pedro Castle project -.what does that cost annually.. And especially when add the millions of dollars a UDP CIG paid out in damages for Breach of Contract, and contracts for external advice on projects which came to nothing.

  3. Accountability is the word that comes to mind as I read this editorial.

    Who has been held accountable for the financial failure that is the Clifton Hunter High School? More importantly, where does accountability start and end as it relates to government expenditure? Can the government hold anyone at the bottom responsible for any form of financial mismanagement if the people at the top are the biggest offenders?

  4. How many notches are in the belt entitled we’re not good at this. At the rate we are going, we will need to get an extension on that belt.

    The money spent on this ill conceived, not thought out, improperly budgeted and all those buzz words which are appropriate, seemingly amounts to more than the deficit we keep talking about. Or should I say surplus, depending on the day of the week.

    A school or the educational system is not measured by the newness of the building. This is another example of an ill conceived philosophy/idea run by those who have no concept of what they are doing. A new school can never fill that gap.

    We have shot ourselves in the foot so many times and theres no sign of that changing.

  5. Even though the school cost 110 Million, can the compass report on this years school results as compared to the John Gray School. I am sure no one wants to report that.

  6. I agree with the editorial.
    My main concern is that the government learn from past mistakes as it looks toward large capital projects such as the airport and the cruise ship berthing facility.
    Can this happen again?

  7. You can’t just build an expensive fancy school and think that will be the solution to educational issues. Hopefully there was also some investment into the quality of the actual scholastic activities and curriculum. If not all this will end up being is a huge waste of money, they would have probably been a lot better off building smaller schools in each district.
    Regarding David Wheaton’s comments, let’s not make this a UDP vs PPM issue, when it’s clear that there’s a history of bad financial choices made by the CIG no matter who’s in charge. They all had their share of screw ups. So neither should act as if they are better than the other and stop all the finger pointing and infighting. One party trying to out due the other is why there’s such a financial mess here. And this is about to repeat itself with the Dump, Airport and Pier unless Mother puts a stop to it. There’s got to be someone who knows how to get things done on a dime. Are say sorry we can’t afford that right now.

  8. The problem of low grades has more to do with the home environment than it does with any of the schools. Also, while we would all like to forget the past and just look forward, the issue of accountability is very important. How for example, if it is concluded that the CarePay implementation at the HSA was not good value for money, do we hold any of the managemnt at the HSA accountable for the loss of a couple million dollars when the people at the very top are not held accountable for the loss of significantly more money?

    Where does accountability start and where does it end when we are dealing with the use of public funds?

  9. Government learning from past mistake? Are you joking? Not only they will never learn. They will invent new ones all the time. Remember, that in the real world, you steal or lose 100.00 dollars that does not belong to you, you will get arrested, you will go to court and pay for your mistake. In government world, you could lose 50 million that still does not belong to you and have a happy life.

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