- The Government will be tapping into the local pool of architectural talent to design the layout for the US$2.5-billion Vernamfield Development project.
- Dubbed ‘Aerotropolis Jamaica’, the project is intended to transform the Vernamfield property in Clarendon, which was previously an army base, into an aerodrome to provide international air cargo and logistics; aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services; and an aeronautical training school.
- For the design of the proposed aerotropolis, which is still in its early planning stage, the project team will be calling on the knowledge and expertise of professional institutions and academia, including students at the University of Technology (UTech) Caribbean School of Architecture (CSA).
The Government will be tapping into the local pool of architectural talent to design the layout for the US$2.5-billion Vernamfield Development project.
Dubbed ‘Aerotropolis Jamaica’, the project is intended to transform the Vernamfield property in Clarendon, which was previously an army base, into an aerodrome to provide international air cargo and logistics; aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services; and an aeronautical training school.
For the design of the proposed aerotropolis, which is still in its early planning stage, the project team will be calling on the knowledge and expertise of professional institutions and academia, including students at the University of Technology (UTech) Caribbean School of Architecture (CSA).
The CSA was established in 1988 to provide for the education of architects for the English-speaking territories of the Caribbean. It is a hub for research on towns and cities of the Caribbean.
Project Manager for the Vernamfield Development, Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Derby, tells JIS News that the Administration is looking at the CSA to “ help us in formulating our plans and to build out our airport and all the structures around it that will be networked to the airport”.
“We believe that UTech offers a skill and a capacity that will help us and reduce the extent to which we have to go overseas for the kind of expertise that we need in the development of the area.
This will enable it (the project) to be pretty much Caribbean or Jamaican in its look when it is done,” he adds.
In June, Lt. Col. Derby, along with team member Bindley Sangster, who is Senior Advisor and Consultant to Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, Hon. Mike Henry, visited the CSA’s 30th anniversary exhibition, and engaged in discussions about a possible collaboration with faculty members as well as students who had their work on display.
He notes that the intention is to have a strong and lasting collaboration with UTech and other academic institutions, which will bring their expertise to bear on the development.
“What we have seen, so far, and what we have heard so far from the institutions that we have been to, has been quite interesting and enlightening…we believe that there is capacity within Jamaica with the Caribbean that will be helpful to the development of the project, and we look forward to seeing all this unfold,” he says.
Lt. Col. Derby says the project team is of the belief that the proposed engagement is a good opportunity for young people to bring their creativity to a major development.
“The good thing about the development is that it is not an overnight thing. While the airport can be built within two to five years, the development around it is going to be over the next 20 years. So our young people can see a whole career in this development,” he notes.
“We want our buildings to not only be aesthetically pleasing but of architectural significance and to be smart buildings, incorporating technology that exists and that will come into existence over the life of the project,” he adds.
Mr. Sangster, who also spoke to JIS News, says that the input of the academic community, particularly in the planning aspect of the project, is crucial, as the Government is now “moving forward very quickly with the Vernamfield development project”.
“We found out that the environment here at UTech includes elements that can be of critical importance in our planning stages and in our development and we’d much rather give every opportunity to what we have here at home, than the expensive need to outsource outside of Jamaica,” he says.
He notes that the team used the opportunity of the CSA exhibition to share information about the Vernamfield concept, as well as garner information about the offerings of the school to see how a collaborative relationship could be initiated.
He says that the intention is to “infuse our concept into their technical knowledge and have them return to us the kind of planning and environmental impact assessments that we need in terms of showing us what is necessary in a project of this size and complexity of Vernamfield”.
“We want to give every opportunity to share and work with UTech and other local organisations [such as] the Institute of Architects, Institute of Engineers, and so on,” he adds.
In the meantime, Architect, Jacquiann T. Lawton, who is Head of the CSA, tells JIS News that she welcomes the collaboration, noting that the students possess the extensive knowledge of urban renewal that the Vernamfield project requires.
“We have the skill sets in terms of how our students approach notions of increased densities to provide that kind of development planning,” she notes.
Dean of the Faculty of the Built Environment, where the CSA is located, Garfield Young, explains that at the faculty, which also houses the School of Building and Land Management, students are taught urban planning, land surveying and geographic information sciences, construction management, structural engineering and quantity surveying.
These are all the elements needed for any kind of urban infrastructural development, he notes.
“This is where you would find the persons who would be engaged from the planning stage to the implementation stage of any project like Vernamfield or anywhere else in Jamaica or the world.
So, it’s the right place to come to see the potential that resides right here in our country,” he says.
Architectural students are also welcoming the proposed collaboration. Master of Architecture final-year student, Kenrick Baksh, is of the opinion that it is “an excellent idea to help connect students to the work in the field”.
“I think it helps to bridge that gap… . In the Caribbean, it is not often you find that the Government will reach out directly to students, so I think it’s a good approach,” he tells JIS News.
For Neville Plummer, who is also a Master of Architecture final-year student, the CSA’s partnership on the Vernamfield project would be a natural fit, as it is the type of activity the school normally undertakes.
“We typically go out and do urban studies of communities or towns and the findings that we could come up with, if we were to do an urban study of the Vernamfield area, could help to influence the projects and developments that take place, which would be able to create a more uniform development in that area,” he notes.
The design studios at CSA are led by lecture teams, which research and explore the environmental, social and economic exigencies of specific sites. Projects are undertaken through partnerships with entities in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
The school continues research on urban renewal and resilience in the coastal towns of Black River, St. Ann’s Bay and Ocho Rios.
Meanwhile, preliminary works on the Vernamfield development are under way, with the clearing of vegetation completed. A construction team is undertaking grading and compacting work on the existing 6,500-foot runway.
Minister Henry, in his Sectoral presentation on July 16, said that the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ) is engaged in the acquisition of private property and the transfer of crown lands near the runway, to allow for compliance with standards relating to runway geometry and Obstacle Limitation Surface (OLS) requirements.
He noted that concrete structures within the protected verges of the runway have been demolished in keeping with OLS Standards, while Jamaica Public Service (JPS) power lines along the Gimme-Me-Bit main road will have to be rerouted or buried, and trees removed.
He said that leaking water mains are being repaired in conjunction with the National Water Commission (NWC) and the National Irrigation Commission (NIC).
“All plumbing traversing the runway strip and pavement will need to be removed and rerouted through accessible culverts, in accordance with current international standards,” he noted.
The overall costing to fully rehabilitate and gradually extend the runway and establish the necessary supporting infrastructure are still being determined, following which the details will be included in a submission to Cabinet to seek approval for the major infrastructural aspects of the development.
After the existing runway is restored, the plan is to then construct a parallel runway of 14,000 feet to accommodate aircraft up to a specified size, including the largest cargo aeroplane in operation.
During a site visit in April, Lt. Col. Derby said that some aspects of the development could get under way within six months after Cabinet approval is secured.
The early start-up aspects of the development include hands-on flight training; aircraft MRO; drone manufacturing; a central campus for the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU); and the accommodation of aspects of the Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) operations.