The Althea Scatliffe Primary School building, which was demolished this month after a structural review found it unsafe last year, should serve as a wake-up call about the poor state of educational facilities in the territory.
At ASPS, students and staff were lucky they didn’t get badly injured when a classroom ceiling collapsed during a weekend in late 2021. After that, a structural review found that the building was so unsafe that demolition was the best way forward.
It is terrifying that the territory’s largest primary school could have been allowed to fall into such disrepair.
We were glad to hear education officials promise to rebuild the facility in its existing location by the start of the 2024 school year. But with so many public infrastructure projects delayed amid a massive recovery-funding shortfall since Hurricane Irma, we have to wonder if this goal is achievable.
We are also highly concerned about the state of other schools, several of which experienced severe damage during the 2017 hurricanes. In this regard, the new Elmore Stoutt High School buildings were a major step in the right direction. But many other facilities also need urgent attention following complaints of mould, flooding and other issues.
Are any of them structurally unsafe like ASPS? That is unclear. Last summer, Education, Culture and Youth Affairs Minister Sharie de Castro rightly promised an assessment of all schools by her ministry’s projects manager and maintenance manager. This exercise, she said, would culminate in a report on the facilities’ safety and integrity. But to date, no such report has been provided to the public.
Officials should release it as soon as possible. After that, the government should gather community input and create a comprehensive, transparent plan for the way forward with school facilities.
That plan should include a reasonable budget that provides funding not only for badly needed repairs but for the long-term maintenance and regular review of every school in the territory from pre-primary to tertiary level.
It was also good to hear Ms. de Castro say in January that her ministry had received an extra $1.125 million in the 2023 budget for the school system — for a total of about $8.25 million from capital and recurrent expenditure to assist with construction and maintenance of schools. But one-off allocations won’t solve the problem. To ensure the safety of the territory’s students, transparent planning must be supported by consistent funding over the long term.
We hope that such issues will take centre stage during the remainder of the campaign season leading up to the April 24 general election.