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Critical school repairs being done

EFCL Chairman Ricardo Vasquez gives an update on school repairs at a recent press conference. Photo courtesy Education Ministry

CEBM proposes to handle minor work

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

Nineteen Catholic primary and secondary schools were listed for the July/August repair programme. A total of 144 schools across the country were prioritised for attention.

Contractors working for the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL), the agency responsible for repairs and construction on behalf of the Education Ministry, had to tackle structural issues, electrical, ceiling/roofing, toilets and plumbing. Among the 19 schools were: Biche RC, Cumaca RC, Diego Martin Boys’ RC, Lochmaben RC, Toco RC, Newtown Boys’ RC, Pt Fortin RC, St Joseph’s Convent Port of Spain, and Fatima College. Repairs were still in progress last week.

At Diego Martin Boys’ RC the water pumps were replaced during the week of August 21–25 while plumbing, electricals and roof repairs were in various stages of activity on August 29. Flooding has been a problem at the school and the passing of Tropical Storm Bret on June 19 worsened the leaky roof.

In May, water got into electrical wires causing fire in a switch. This had to be changed, an electricity-load test conducted and electrical labelling done so breakers for different areas are known. Blocked downpipes which caused flooding still have to be unblocked.

At Sangre Grande RC masonry repairs to cracks in the floors and the administrative office were done. Work was 95 per cent completed on the high-density metal fence, and electrical upgrade to rectify low voltage was ongoing August 28.

At Toco RC last week, a large celotex tile had to be replaced, a coated chain-link fence and razor wire were installed. The ceiling was being vacuumed and bat proofing still had to be fitted throughout the school. The pace of work was impacted by rain.

In an interview last Tuesday, Chairman of EFCL Ricardo Vasquez reported repairs were completed at 95 per cent of Catholic schools listed. The outstanding work would be done during the school term but this will not prevent all 19 schools from opening. The Education Ministry received approval late, thus EFCL began some repairs in August. “I am satisfied our contractors have indeed done their best to have everything ready for the school term,” Vasquez said.

During a media conference hosted by the ministry on August 11, he assured “all critical school repairs are being undertaken at this time”.  Ag General Manager Denis Cox said “one school may have a sewer issue, electrical issue, they may have an issue with painting so we will look at the critical ones to treat with first; in some cases the painting may be deferred for a later period”.  Contracts were awarded “in most instances”.

Cox said there were schools which might take longer and the EFCL was using a “phased system” to ensure all schools reopened on time.  He said the management team of EFCL was on the ground to ensure all contractors were working diligently.

Commenting on what was being done to prevent shoddy workmanship which had to be rectified, Cox said a team from EFCL – a clerk of works, project manager, and senior project managers – was “on the ground”. He added that in some cases a safety officer was involved to ensure compliance with the OSH Act.  Minister of State in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis said the ministry had a division which supervised the work being done by EFCL.

The Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) has submitted a proposal for the Ministry’s consideration to establish a new “normal” in which the parish priest/manager and the principal “have responsibility for overseeing minor- to intermediate-level repairs and maintenance”. It is suggesting a partnership between the CEBM, EFCL in the management of major renovations, improvements, expansions or replacement of school buildings.

Under the proposal the CEBM will establish appropriate budgeting and accounting procedures. The education ministry will retain full responsibility for major repairs, renovations and rebuilding of schools and continue to fund all repairs and maintenance of Catholic primary and secondary schools.

The CEBM continues to be concerned about the negative impact of the disruption of classes when schools failed to reopen at the start of the academic year or were forced to close because of breakdown of physical facilities.

Sharon Mangroo, CEO of CEBM said although requests for repairs were sent in by mid-May other major problems developed during the rainy season. “If we had a little more autonomy we can take care of things,” she said. Shoddy workmanship is also a concern. Mangroo said principals have complained about the quality of work being done at schools.