Miller: Government ‘making excuses’ on school playfield

Cayman’s opposition leader blasted the civil service Tuesday for “making up excuses” on a proposal to put artificial turf down on a section of field outside the North Side primary school – a project MLA Ezzard Miller said school parents and his constituent office have been working on for four years.

Mr. Miller said one district resident paid $20,000 from his personal funds to purchase artificial turf from Chicago and ship it down to Grand Cayman for use on the playfield. The turf has been sitting at the port, collecting storage fees since. The opposition leader said the idea was to have the turf in place by the start of the next school year in September, so the Edna Moyle Primary School kids do not have to go out and play on a field covered in rocks and “donkey weed.”

“The unacceptable conditions at the playing field have caused great concern among parents about injuries suffered by children playing on the field on a daily basis,” he said.

Mr. Miller believes the difficulties his constituents are experiencing on this issue are a microcosm of larger problems within Cayman’s public sector today.

“Nobody, including the deputy governor, will take responsibility to get something done,” Mr. Miller said Tuesday during a meeting with members of the local press in his George Town office. “Everybody seems to be comfortable … making up excuses why we can’t do something.

“That’s not what built Cayman.”

The government Ministry of Education took a different view Wednesday when asked about Mr. Miller’s comments. The plan to put turf on what is now a rocky, flood-prone field is not funded within the current 2018-2019 budget cycle, and would require some extensive remediation works on site.

Moreover, the ministry’s acting chief officer Cetonya Cacho indicated in a statement that there would be significant health concerns in using the artificial turf North Side residents have obtained, partly because the turf was designed for use indoors.

“The company that developed the material [has] indicated that it is not suitable for outside use and that it will not drain properly, causing the water to settle,” Ms. Cacho’s statement read. “The ministry has also been advised that the material will become white and chalky, potentially leading to health and safety concerns for our students.”

The ministry acknowledged there could be ways to keep the playfield from flooding, but if those did not work, the government would then face added costs or could even have to remove the turf after its installation.

“A draft plan for field work at the Edna M. Moyle Primary School was developed in consultation with public works,” the statement continued. “The ministry team will review these plans and consider potential options for the future, keeping in mind that this work is not included in the current budget.”

Mr. Miller said, despite years’ worth of correspondence on the issue, the stated health concerns had not come up until recently. He also noted there had been no response, as of Tuesday, to requests he made asking whether North Side residents could fund the project themselves.

The opposition leader also provided correspondence from the turf manufacturer, Shaw Sports Turf, which indicated the issue with the turf turning white after it is exposed to the sun is “an aesthetic issue” that raised no “safety or performance concern.”

However, company representatives did note that the cushion underneath the turf was not suggested for use outside “as it will not drain water through the system and will waterlog the cushion.”

At the moment, with no indication of when, or even if, government might fund the project, and no answers on their ability to proceed without public funding, North Side parents are left in what’s become an all-too-familiar public sector delay, Mr. Miller said. Meanwhile, storage fees for the artificial turf at the port are mounting – expected to reach close to $30,000 by the end of this month – which is more than was initially paid for the turf.

“This story about the AstroTurf is emblematic … of all other situations [in government],” the MLA said. “This is the kind of incompetence, ineptness, attitude that has us in so many conundrums today in so many of the various ministries.

“My preferred choice would be to sit down today … with the ministry and the technical team and take a commonsense approach to solve these problems and get the field fixed for the children.”

The Ministry of Education indicated Wednesday that it must ensure that all public schools receive necessary resources within an approved budget each year.

“We look forward to continue collaboration with all education stakeholders as we make improvements to all government schools,” the ministry statement read.