Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, left, and Premier Andrew Fahie sign contracts last Thursday for the refit of the L-shaped building at Elmore Stoutt High School. (Photo: FACEBOOK)

Four construction companies will each refurbish one floor of the L-shaped building at Elmore Stoutt High School — which has gone unused for nearly two years after being gutted by Hurricane Irma — at a total cost of $3.7 million.

Representatives from Virgin Islands-based Quality Construction Limited, Metro Construction Limited and Autland Heavy Equipment Limited and the St. Lucia-based Construction Industrial and Equipment signed contracts for the project during a ceremony last Thursday morning, at which Premier Andrew Fahie promised to have the work finished by the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

“We are excited about our children getting back here in 2019, but we are also excited for an opportunity to engage the local construction industry and be able to offer local contractors a source of income,” the premier said, adding, “Local contractors are key partners in the rebuilding of this territory.”

School saga

After the storm, senior and junior students were shifted to the former Clarence Thomas Limited building in Pasea, where they attended on a half- day shift system, leading to frequent complaints about overcrowding, excessive noise and behaviour problems.

The original target for the completion of the refit, as announced by the previous education minister, Myron Walwyn, was the start of the 2018 school year. Mr. Walwyn blamed the delays on the fact that the project was being financed as part of the $65.2 million Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Loan from the Caribbean Development Bank.

But on Thursday, the premier announced a change in plans.

“If we continued with the approach that we inherited, construction would not have started here for another year,” Mr. Fahie explained. “But already our children have been disadvantaged for 18 long months, forced into shortened school days and less academic contact time. To add another 12 months to that would have been unconscionable.”

Thus, his government decided to forgo the regional funding option in favour of local funds, which he said had the added benefit of getting more Virgin Islands contractors “a piece of the action.”

The companies were selected from among five who originally tendered in February. Of those, only Qwomar Construction — which turned in the lowest bid for the entire project — was not selected for a contract.

Thus, the third floor will be constructed by Autland at a price of $1.1 million. The second floor will go to Metro Construction for just under $917,000. Quality Construction will get the first floor at just over $941,000, and the ground floor will go to Construction Industrial and Equipment for just under $824,500. The project is expected to reach “substantial completion” by July 31, according to government.

Tendering process

The process began in January, when Dr. Drexel Glasgow, director of projects for the Ministry of Finance, held a formal reading of tenders on Jan. 30 in which he and his staff gathered at the Procurement Unit offices to open and read the bids one by one. In describing the scope of the project, Dr. Glasgow called it “a rehabilitation” to include the “ceiling, the windows, doors, electricals, [air conditioning], the rail itself … and the flooring.
Everything on the inside.”

The project will also include some work on the parapet around the roof of the structure, as well as painting. During the tendering meeting in January, Shadi Hussein, a procurement specialist for the United Nations Development Programme who was working with the government on the project, explained that the bid- ding process included each bidder producing certificates of good standing from the Social Security Board, the Registry of Corporate Affairs and the Inland Revenue Department; a valid trade licence; tender security; a formal proposal; and a bill of quantities, followed by a more detailed analysis of pricing.

Committing to learning

On the campaign trail, Mr. Fahie frequently slammed the leadership he blamed for the slow rebuild of the school, alleging that the previous government refused the volunteer help it could have gained and instead “turned around and paid a con- tract to clean something that people were willing to continue community efforts to clean … which would have allowed the L-shaped building to already have been fixed.”

Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who is also minister of education, culture, youth affairs, agriculture and fisheries, praised teachers, parents and students for the hardships they’ve endured in the temporary structure, promising to work “to ensure that you have a full day of school, because we know the stories that are associated with the shift system.”

He added, “These conditions are really not fit to work in and to learn in, but you have committed yourselves to the future of this territory, which is the children.”