By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Free National Movement (FNM) has questioned the $500,000 price tag of repairs to the “small, one-room” Rum Cay All Age School and alleged that the school contract was given to a Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) supporter.
However, on Friday, a government official said the half a million dollars is being spent on repairs to a Family Island school that has not received any remedial work since its inception.
Lionel Sands, the director of education, told The Tribune that the Rum Cay All-Age School has not received any repairs since before former Governor General Sir Milo Butler attended the school in the early 1900s.
Two weeks ago, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald said the nine students currently attending the school in Rum Cay would be relocated and housed at one of the local churches until the completion of $500,000 worth of renovations.
Mr Fitzgerald said the Rum Cay All-Age School was one of two schools that required work that “extends beyond the opening of school.”
When questioned why such a high price tag was placed on such a relatively small school, Mr Sands explained: “Rum Cay is a school where nothing was done to it since Sir Milo Butler attended it.”
He added that the school’s overall structure, particularly the roof, is well overdue for repairs.
“The walls would be those thick, very strong walls but the roof and the other infrastructure, plumbing and all of that because obviously it’s very old, the plumbing and the electrical amenities would have to be dealt with also,” Mr Sands said.
However in a statement released yesterday, Brensil Rolle, former parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Housing, said the FNM was “stunned” by the price tag of the repairs for the tiny school.
“Our first impression was that the minister had made a mistake, so we contacted the local residents and they confirmed that this was indeed the case,” the FNM’s statement said. “We were further informed that the contract for repairs of the school was issued to a PLP general who lives in San Salvador, consequently sub contracting the works to a resident of Rum Cay.
“While we support the effort to repair this school we have some serious reservations about the monies spent for the repairs. So we have dispatched an agent to provide us with an update on this situation.”
The FNM’s statement added: “We regard as interesting the commentary and the expressions of disgust at the notion that such a school would cost the government as much as all of the repairs to schools in Grand Bahama last year combined. We think this is indeed troubling and needs further investigations.
“It is the view of the FNM that based upon costing obtained when we were last in office that it would have cost less than half of the $500,000 announced by Minister Fitzgerald. Consequently, we urge the minister to produce the scope of works for the repair of this school and make it public for all Bahamians to see so that he can clear his name, and resuscitate the damaged reputation both of his ministry and the Ministry of Public Works.”
The FNM also criticised Minister Fitzgerald for failing to complete school repairs throughout the country in time for the start of the new school year last week.
“Too many schools in the Family Islands and New Providence, remain ‘construction zones’, with ongoing work, noise and debris in the school yard, while students are expected to settle down and focus on getting an education,” the statement said, citing Long Island, Inagua and Crooked Island as examples.
“The truth of the matter is that in the case of the E P Roberts Primary School, the students of Englerston are unable to safely attend school due to the extensive construction and renovation works still ongoing in the school,” the FNM’s statement added. “(Minister of Education Jerome) Fitzgerald and the PLP have totally dropped the ball, and failed the children of the Englerston constituency.
“In A F Adderley and Government High, the students are in a panic, they fear that the guard rails would collapse at any moment and students may suffer serious physical injuries in the schools. Additionally, electric fixtures are exposed and fans are falling from the ceilings in classrooms.
“The government started to build a pre-school off Cowpen Road, construction on the building had stopped completely because the contractor has not been paid. Consequently, the school has not been opened and the students have been housed in a church in the area.”
The party said in addition to ongoing repairs, there is a reported desk and chair shortage in public schools. The opposition party condemned the government for its “lack of foresight and planning” in education.