School opened before completion, without certificate of occupancy
Thirty months after opening to students, Clifton Hunter High School still does not have its certificate of occupancy, according to a new auditor general’s report.
“We believe that the ministry took unnecessary risks with the safety and welfare of the students attending the schools at the time,” the report from the Office of the Auditor General, released Tuesday, states.
The audit accuses the ministry of not managing the project effectively, leading to cost overruns and delays, and delivering far less than it promised. The audit also alleges the education minister at the time, Rolston Anglin, had inappropriate influence in who received contracts, which, in part led to the problems with the project.
Mr. Anglin had not responded to requests for comments as of press time Wednesday.
The audit details extensive problems with the Education Ministry’s planning and building projects from 2005 through 2013 when government proposed three new high schools and a number of new primary school classrooms. Only one of the new high schools, Clifton Hunter, is in use.
Martin Ruben, who led the audit team, said many of the construction issues at the school have been dealt with, but there are still some outstanding safety concerns that have not been addressed. He said he was at the school just a couple weeks ago and saw wheelchair ramps that were missing railings.
“We would have expected all significant issues to be dealt with prior to the school opening,” Mr. Ruben said. He called the audit report a “case study in a ministry not equipped for project management.”
Mr. Ruben said the fact that the building has not received a final certificate of occupancy, more than two and a half years after opening, is “symptomatic” of mismanagement from the ministry.
Many of the issues with the construction projects over the past decade, auditors said, are due to the ministry’s lack of experience managing big infrastructure projects.
“The ministry is organized and designed to deliver education, not build infrastructure,” Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick said when he released the report this week.
Ministry officials did not respond to direct requests for comment, but earlier released a response to the audit. The ministry release states that all big projects will now go through the central government project management office instead of being handled within the ministry. Additionally, ministry officials write in the response, they will form a project steering committee and develop business cases for big future capital works, as is the standard for major government projects in the Cayman Islands.
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Ruben and Mr. Swarbrick said they were hopeful to hear that the ministry would begin using centralized government services for building projects.
Suzanne Larson, the inspections supervisor with the Planning Department’s Building Control Unit, said it is common for projects to open and operate with special permission, sometimes for extended periods of time, before receiving a final certificate of occupancy. A building can get a special permit as long as all fire, life and safety issues are addressed, with permission from the planning director, she said.
Problems with other schools
Work on the new John Gray High School came to a halt after more than $56 million in work had been completed, and plans for a third school were shelved early in the planning process.
“While a new John Gray High School is partially built, the four buildings at that site are only partially completed and will require significant additional funding to get to the point where students can use them,” the audit found.
Mr. Ruben said the ministry missed an opportunity to review both projects in 2009 when government and the prime contractor on the project, Tom Jones International, parted ways in a dispute and the ministry, under new leadership, brought the project management in-house.
“There was no clear evaluation,” Mr. Swarbrick said. “It was piecemeal after that.”
“The ministry has delivered less than it promised at a far higher cost than planned, and what has been delivered has been late,” he said. “The people of the Cayman Islands and the students who need proper buildings in which to learn are still waiting for the high school infrastructure promised by the government several years ago.”
The audit calls for the Education Ministry to assess the John Gray site and develop a strategy to finish the school before the investment is completely lost.
Responding to the recommendation, the Education Ministry release states: “The Ministry has accepted the recommendation that an assessment of the John Gray High School project site should be carried out and a strategy developed to manage its risks and future development.
“The Ministry further confirms that this approach is being factored in to the process required by the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility (FFR) now embedded in the Public Management and Finance Law as it seeks to complete construction of that school.”