Twenty years after the government procured 134 acres of land on behalf of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, only 13 acres have been transferred to the school, Natural Resources and Labour Minister Mitch Turnbull told the House of Assembly on March 9.
Now, he said, he plans to change that.
“As the minister responsible for lands, I wish to conclude this outstanding matter once and for all in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports,” Mr. Turnbull told the HOA. “We have a duty to uphold the original agreement of transfer in the interest of the development of our people, and we need to do so in the shortest order.”
The matter was previously addressed in September 2019, when Cabinet decided to transfer the land in order to “enable the college to expand its operations to further develop our people through additional infrastructural development,” the minister explained.
The 2019 decision involved completing the transfer of three blocks totalling 134 acres to the HLSCC board of governors, according to Mr. Turnbull. Those parcels, he said, are Parcel 6, Block 3337B; Parcel 164 (which he said is now Parcel 169 due to interim developments), Block 3238B; and Parcel 7/1, Block 3337B.
“It has been brought to my attention that only 13 acres (from Parcels 6 and 7/1) have been transferred due to land swap agreements with the Department of Agriculture,” Mr. Turnbull said. “Therefore, 121 acres remain in the Crown’s possession. The delay in finalising this transfer of land is of great reproach, considering that the total of 134 acres was procured by the government on behalf of the college from the previous landowners, in 2003.”
Mr. Turnbull did not provide any further explanation for the delay.
Days after the 2019 Cabinet decision, then-Education Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley — who is now the premier — said that HLSCC presidents had been requesting the transfer for more than two decades.
Twenty-two years earlier, he said at the time, then-President Dr. Charles Wheatley had written to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour to request the transfer to help implement HLSCC’s “master plan” and to “facilitate the growth and development of the institution.”
Eleven years earlier, he added, Dr. Karl Dawson, another HLSCC president, made the same request, explaining how the action would boost the college’s accreditation process.
Dr. Wheatley said at the time that Cabinet had agreed to grant the requests.
“This provides the college with lucrative assets, which will present a more positive picture of the institution’s financial status,” he said. “The college will have the option of leveraging its assets in developing a business model. It will also allow the possibility of infrastructural development to assist the college in fulfilling its mandate.”
At the time, then-acting Interim HLSCC President Dr. Richard Georges — who is now president — said that about 120 acres of the land are located on the western hillside overlooking the college, and 13 acres consist of the land where the culinary and marine centres are located.
Virgin Gorda land
On March 9, Mr. Turnbull also provided a related update about HLSCC’s Virgin Gorda campus.
“We have entered discussions with the college to obtain ownership of land in Virgin Gorda, and hence the ability to build a fully outfitted permanent campus,” the minister said. “For the past 30 years, the college has rented from Virgin Gorda commercial properties such as the Pickering Building and most recently Village Rose. The president and board of governors have put forth a vision for the college which sees the Virgin Gorda campus becoming a mecca for hospitality and culinary arts.”
Mr. Turnbull also reviewed a few of HLSCC’s accomplishments since it was founded in 1990.
“Over the past three decades, the institution has experienced significant growth, expanding to offer associate’s degrees in as many as 23 subject areas and 21 different professional certifications,” he said. “The college provides student life enrichment, a performing arts venue, Virgin Islands studies, and access to baccalaureate and master’s degree programmes through collaboration with universities abroad.”