Exactly two years after Hurricane Irma gutted the L-shaped building at Elmore Stoutt High School, a team of contractors handed the renovated facility back to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture.
Four days later, it was filled with students returning to class for the new semester. The Friday ceremony was a joyous occasion, with pastors leading spirited prayers and sermons, contractors lauded for completing the project quickly, and long-time teacher Lillian Adorothy Turnbull honoured for her dedication to educating the territory’s students.
“With just a few days before the start of the school term, this is definitely a major accomplishment,” said Carolyn Stoutt Igwe, the ministry’s permanent secretary. “We have a lot to celebrate today.”
Following the building’s handover, students started classes Tuesday at ESHS, while on Virgin Gorda classes began Monday at Bregado Flax Educational Centre, where a new building was recently handed over to government.
As only one of BFEC’s main buildings has been refurbished, some temporary accommodations are necessary to adequately house all of its students, said ECYAFA Minister Dr. Natalio“Sowande” Wheatley.
As of Friday, officials planned to install temporary administrative offices inside a tent on school grounds, and were looking into similar measures to reduce crowding in classrooms, Dr. Wheatley said.
Enis Adams launch
On Monday, Enis Adams Primary School, which was completely destroyed during Irma and then newly rebuilt with a multi-million-dollar contribution from Peter Haycraft, founder of Road Town Wholesale, was commissioned and turned over to the government.
During a handover ceremony, officials lauded Mr.Haycraft for his financial contribution, but he was reluctant to accept the praise, handing most of the acclaim to Hesketh Newton, CEO of Newton Construction Company, which oversaw the school’s construction.
“I’m very grateful, but I had the easy job,” he said. “It’s easy to pay someone to build: It’s a lot more difficult to build it.”
With Enis Adams’ handover, all of the territory’s public schools except Isabella Morris Primary and Eslyn Henley Richiez Learning Centre are now open for the new semester, Dr. Wheatley said.
Yesterday morning, community members complained that there were too few teachers atClaudia Creque Educational Centre on Anegada, but Principal Theodore John said government plans to assign more.
“We are working to have those issues resolved,” he said.
At private schools, classes started Sept. 2 at Cedar International School, while St. George’s Primary and Secondary schools both returned to class Monday.
The mood was jubilant at the Friday handover at ESHS, and much of the afternoon was spent praising the four contractors who oversaw the building’s construction, and the premier and government for employing Virgin Islands businesses for the project.
Representatives of the four companies that worked together on the school’s refurbishment —Metro Construction Ltd., Quality Construction Ltd., Autland Heavy Equipment, and Construction Industrial and Equipment — said that de-spite the project’s unusual dynamic, they were motivated to finish their work on schedule and on budget.
Taking the stage to receive honours from the government, company representatives said that they had never before participated in a project with so many stakeholders and such a narrow timeline, but community support and pressure from the government encouraged them to meet their start-of-school deadline.
Under the previous government, the project was to be carried out by one contractor and funded by the Recovery and Reconstruction Loan from the Caribbean Development Bank.
But following extended delays that leaders blamed on stringent CDB requirements — which included tendering — the new government decided instead to fund the project with central government funds. Premier Andrew Fahie announced in April that the work would be split among the four firms, which received no-bid contracts totaling about $3.7 million.
On Friday, the contractors were honoured with plaques from the government, invited to plant trees in front of the school, and met with enthusiastic applause from the crowd. They returned this gratitude in kind.
Each company donated at least $10,000 of its contractual earnings to the maintenance of the school, while the charity Unite BVI donated an additional $250,000 gift.
“I am humbly grateful that our team … had a role in such an important project in the growth of our territory,” said Bryan Marshall of Metro Construction Ltd.
Company representatives also thanked government for recruiting local firms to handle the construction — the only foreign company, Construction Industrial and Equipment, is based in Saint Lucia but collaborated with Gregory Hodge, a VI contractor — and encouraged them to continue to award such con-tracts to local businesses.
“Please, please ensure that at the end of the day, our recovery benefits us, and that we are at a better position than we were before we began,” said Dawn Crabbe-Herbert, operations manager at Autland Heavy Equipment.
The premier echoed the imperative for VI residents to support one another. While outside support helped the territory’s post-Irma recovery, in its residents, the territory already had everything necessary to lift itself out of hardship, Mr. Fahie said.
“All we need to recover is already here,” he said.
A building renamed
The final honour of the afternoon went to Ms. Turnbull, the veteran educator, who became emotional watching drapes fall from the roof of the building to reveal her name etched on the wall.
“Whatever I have done, it is from my heart,” she said.
Ms. Turnbull, who worked for more than 50 years in the territory’s education system, far exceeded her duties as an educator, said Chief Education Officer Connie George, explaining the ministry’s decision in renaming the building.
“She was a teacher, a principal, a caregiver, a lifesaver,” Ms.George said. “Ultimately, Ms. Turnbull, you’re a gem.”
Ms. Turnbull then joined ministers and students to help cut a ribbon, afterward turning to a student and reminding her to behave.
“Don’t mess this building up, because I have my name on it and I don’t want it desecrated,” she said