Weather service gets approval for million-dollar facility

Lyndhurst Apartments, police traffic unit building to be demolished to make room for project

An initial rendering of the new weather facility.

The Cayman Islands National Weather Service has received planning permission and a budget to construct a multi-million-dollar weather facility on Agnes Way, off Crewe Road, in George Town.

National Weather Service Director General John Tibbetts said it has taken half a decade to narrow down a location, as well as get funding and approval, for the construction of the building.

“We first started thinking about building a new facility in 2015,” said Tibbetts. “Fortunately, we were able to get Ms. Dubadah Boldeau from the Department of Public Works to draw up the plans, and then, Mr. Jonathan Jackson from the ministry helped to provide us with the extra help to see the project through.”

Tibbetts and his team of meteorologists and forecasters currently operate out of the Customs and Border Control private arrival and departure facility, adjacent to the Island Air hanger at the airport. Tibbetts said “cramped work spaces” and “poor visibility”, along with several other constraints of the current location, are hindering his staff’s ability to meet international standards.

During the November 2019 Finance Committee sitting of the Legislative Assembly, government approved a budget of $3.5 million, which will be provided to the weather service between 2020 and 2022 to set up the new facility. Then, in December, the Central Planning Authority approved the application to build the project. The only objectors to the proposal were an 82-year-old woman and her 81-year-old husband, for matters of a personal nature, according to agenda documents.

The facility will be built on 4.7 acres of Crown land, which currently houses the Lyndhurst apartment complex, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s Traffic and Roads Policing Unit, and aggregate material for the National Roads Authority.

The apartment complex and the Traffic and Roads Policing Unit building will be demolished and replaced with an open grass field which will contain weather instruments. The new three-storey weather building will be located on the site where the aggregate is currently in place, which will be moved.

The funding for the project comes exclusively from the government, as the National Weather Service does not generate any revenue. Tibbetts said there is a strong business case to support the islands’ need for a more modern facility.

“Sixty percent of what we do is for the Cayman Islands Airports Authority,” said Tibbetts. “We provide crucial information about touch-down and take-off points of the runway. International standards dictate that we need to see at least 70% of the runway, but where we are located, we only have a window that has little to no visibility of the touch-down and take-off points.”

Tibbetts said the new facility will provide his forecasters with 270-degree views of the runway, as well as a 360-degree open rooftop view, which is to allow his staff to meet international requirements.

A tendering process to construct the building is expected to open in the coming months. Groundbreaking is expected to occur in August or September this year, and the facility is likely to be built within one year.

Plyboard covers the doors of unit that once housed an elderly lady, who vacated the site one day before an eviction order was executed in December 2019.

Relocating Lyndhurst Apartments tenants

Efforts to relocate tenants of the Lyndhurst Apartments on Agnes Way are continuing as government prepares to build its new weather facility on the site.

The dilapidated apartment complex, which is owned by government, is thought to currently house five occupants in three separate dwellings.

In December, fire officers breached the door of one unit during the execution of a court-sanctioned eviction order. The operation, which was headed by the Department of Children and Family Services, aimed at removing a tenant, who neighbours said was an elderly woman.

When officers accessed the apartment, the woman was not at home. Sheets of plyboard now cover the doors.

When Cayman Compass staff visited the site this week, one occupant, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was told he would be relocated to Bodden Town, but added that he was not told when.

In December, Premier Alden McLaughlin called for greater cooperation between landlords and the Needs Assessment Unit as well as the DCFS.

The Compass reached out to government seeking a comment on the matter, but no reply was received by press time.