Minister of Education, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites, says the Government has committed $40 million to conduct emergency repairs on some 15 schools, in time for the 2012/13 academic year, which begins on September 3.
Mr. Thwaites informed that a total of nine infant and six primary schools, with infant departments, have been identified for repairs, which are expected to be completed by the end of August.
The Minister was speaking on July 23, at a press briefing at Jamaica House, to inform journalists on the Ministry’s progress in back- to-school preparations.
He also informed that some 108 primary and 20 secondary schools across the island have been identified for infrastructure development and improvement, before the new school year starts.
"We have asked the HEART Trust/NTA, which has strong programmes in construction, to take responsibility for school repairs," he said.
"This is not to take away the work of small contractors; in fact, it is our desire and our hope that government will simplify the procurement process, so that school principals can encourage people in their communities to help with small items of repair. They can usually do it much better than some external contractor,” the Minister added.
He said the HEART/Trust NTA is being contracted as an "emergency responder" in the areas where they have centres. "We hope to economise in this way, and also to be able to offer training and experience to those who are in the appropriate HEART programme," he said.
Rev. Thwaites said the Ministry is also inviting partnerships with parent teacher's associations (PTAs), alumni associations as well as “with businesses in the vicinity of the schools requiring repairs, to assist in this regard."
Additionally, he informed that the Food for the Poor/Early Childhood Commission (ECC) Jamaica 50 Project, which will result in the construction of some 50 infant schools in 50 months, is "well underway." Two schools, one in McCooks Pen and the other in Green Vale, have already been completed.
Food for the Poor is partnering with the Early Childhood Commission to ensure the timely implementation of the schools. Also, the ECC is working in consultation with Members of Parliament to identify the best locations for the schools.
Also, five schools have been identified for rehabilitation works under the Ministry of Education/United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Tropical Storm Nicole Rehabilitation Programme.
Two of the schools will be fully funded by the USAID, while the remaining schools will be funded jointly by the GoJ/USAID. Work is in progress at the Port Antonio High School, while procurement has started for Brown’s Town High School.
In the meantime, Mr. Thwaites said that the Ministry has completed an audit of school furniture in all public schools to determine shortages, excesses, repairs, and disposal. He noted that where excesses are found, these items will be redistributed to other schools in need.
"Our budget for new school furniture this year is very limited and it is a matter of grave concern," the Minister told journalists. "We're trying to rationalise it. Some schools have more than they need; some schools have far too little, so we're going to have to do some redistribution," he said.
The Minister noted that a comprehensive repair programme will be undertaken, and that schools will receive items well ahead of the new school year.