How much has the Cayman Islands government spent on the construction of the new John Gray High School gym?

That’s a piece of information the Ministry of Education, and apparently Minister of Education Tara Rivers, do not want the people of Cayman to know – at least not until well after the May 24 elections.

In mid-February, government officials – including Minister Rivers, Ministry of Education Chief Officer Christen Suckoo and George Town MLA Joey Hew – were eager to “show off” the new gymnasium.

They were happy to pose for a nice “photo op,” to note that the new gym would be ready in time for May final exams, and to promise that the construction project would come in under budget.

As to what exactly that budget is, however, they remain less than forthcoming. Senior project manager Jonathan Matthews described the costs as “confidential,” while Chief Officer Suckoo said, “Let’s not belabor this, OK?”

No one should ever be “OK” with government attempting to deflect, obscure or shield information about how public officials are spending public money.

On April 4, one of our journalists submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Law, seeking records related to the “cost of construction of the new gym at John Gray High School.”

We were pleased to receive, on April 12, a fairly prompt response from Ministry of Education Manager Janet Chisholm. We were less pleased to read the contents of that response:

“The new gym at John Gray High School is still in the construction phase and the minister has given the undertaking to disclose the full cost once the project is completed. Therefore, access to the records will be granted on the 30-Jun-2017. Releasing this record in the public domain will not benefit the public and might create misperception since the project is still in the construction phase.”

(June 30? What about the new gym being ready by May exams?)

We immediately requested an internal review of that response from Chief Officer Suckoo, which we presume is ongoing. If he persists in not releasing the costs, we almost certainly will lodge an appeal with the Information Commissioner’s Office. (In light of Premier Alden McLaughlin’s, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s and Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s quashing of the “Ritch Report” on immigration, we await to see how effective the information commissioner can be.)

There are two fundamental flaws in the ministry’s argument to “defer.” First, the ministry asserts that Minister Rivers has vowed to disclose the costs on June 30.

Between this date and that, the May 24 elections will occur. There is no certainty that Minister Rivers will be a member of the Legislative Assembly on June 30 – or if she is, that she will remain Minister of Education. Even if her intention is true, it cannot bind her successor.

Second, the ministry attempts to strangle the definition of what most people would think of as the “public interest.” It is certainly of importance that Caymanian voters have all the facts about the performance of Minister Rivers and the Progressives government before their ballots are cast on May 24. High atop that list of “must-know” information is how much officials have spent on major capital projects, such as the gym. Remember the runaway costs of the Clifton Hunter High School?

As for the ministry’s statement that the public may be confused by being given the costs of a project before the project is complete, we think it is more likely that the ministry itself is confused – about its obligation to share timely information with the public it serves.

The inclusion of two key words will suffice in order to clear up any possible “misperception” in that area, i.e.: “The government has spent XX million dollars on construction of the new John Gray gym … so far.”

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I really think that this is one time that every Citizen of the Cayman Islands needs to get behind the Cayman Compass and demand that this information of cost to the John Gray gym be made public . If we don’t stop this kind of behavior by Government , fairly soon the Freedom of information would be demolished. These Politicians needs to be held accountable for their actions and stopped from abusing the system and the taxpayers money.

    That’s a lot of what Ms Rivers is not supposed to have . Then if this information is not made public, then it should be taken higher than George town Court house.

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  2. Jared it seems that you know alot about the School . Is this gym located in the middle of the building , or on the outer side of the building ? Then what is the Sq footage of the gym ? I have seen lots of Schools gyms , and from the photo that picture doesn’t look like the gyms I seen . Look forward to your reply .

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  3. I fully realize construction costs in the Cayman Islands are much higher than in the US. However I did take a moment to Google “High School Gym Construction Costs”. One of the most interesting pages I found was from a Christian School which apparently has completed the first of two phases of gym construction. The site lists some interesting background of the history of the sports teams using the facility and an detailed list of budgeted items. Take a look for reference sake. If Cayman construction prices are double of the US, you can see that the gym here should cost. http://www.bradshawchristian.com/page.cfm?p=616

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  4. Rodney.
    The one you have linked to has 14,500 sq.ft. exterior shell and is costing about $90 per sq.ft.
    This is about what I would estimate from my years in the real estate business.

    So the new gym here should be no more than $200 per sq.ft. USD say $160 KYD per sq. ft.

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