KINGSTON — Education Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness, says the Ministry is developing a national strategy to address the challenges associated with the building of schools in communities.
The move comes against the background of residents’ objecting to the construction of schools in their area under the Primary Education Support Programme (PESP), out of concern that, inter alia, they will devalue their properties.
The Minister cited two communities in St. Catherine and Manchester, where he said, the residents have rejected three proposed locations, in either case, for the building of schools.
In an interview with JIS News, Mr. Holness lamented that the Ministry is "very stressed" and "concerned" with this development, which he contends is stalling the school construction programme.
"We have land that is available to us for the construction of schools, but we have had protests, bitterly, regarding our plans for placing schools in communities. Some communities feel that the schools will devalue their property, and we have also had difficulties with the planning authorities and the parish councils in approving schools. That has delayed our construction projects significantly," he bemoaned.
Mr. Holness informed that the national strategy, which is being developed, will incorporate all stakeholders, inclusive of planning authorities and environmental agencies, to ensure that when the school construction programme is fully rolled out, “we don’t have these problems of community objections or objections by the relevant planning authorities."
“What we want to do is to, upfront, develop the policy, so that everyone understands what we are doing and where objections are raised initially, then, clearly, we will resolve them before we go to school design and construction. What is happening to us now is that, having gone through the process of designing and mobilising, then we are stopped, and we would have wasted the funds invested,” Minister Holness pointed out.
Speaking at the recent groundbreaking ceremony for the Red Hills Primary School in St. Andrew, Minister Holness informed that under the PESP, the Ministry borrowed some US$24 million to build 12 primary schools across two phases. He said US$10 million was earmarked to construct seven schools in the first phase, with an additional US$14 million being borrowed to build the remaining institutions.
Schools, which are either being constructed, upgraded or refurbished under the PESP, include: Gordon Town Primary, St. Andrew; Guys Hill Primary, St. Catherine; Bromley Primary, St. Mary; and Christiana Primary, Manchester, under phase one, and Mansfield Primary, St. Ann; Fruitful Vale Primary, Portland; Chester Castle All Age and Lucea primary, Hanover; and Red Hills Primary, St. Andrew under the second and final phase of the primary/all-age segment.
Minister Holness informed that the Ministry will next be focusing on secondary institutions, with construction work slated to begin on two in Mandeville, Manchester; and Cedar Grove, St. Thomas, later this year into early 2012.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter