Lot of hell! - Abandoned land in downtown Kingston worries near-by schools
An abandoned lot used as a dump, a bathroom for some homeless people and a bedroom for persons involved in the sex trade is making life hellish for students, teachers and administrators of the St Aloysius Primary School in downtown Kingston.
For years, the school community has been dealing with the stench of human faeces, dead animals and smoke rising from burning debris, and it appears the authorities are turning a blind eye to the hellhole which is bordered by Johns Lane, Sutton Street and East Street.
Only recently, two schoolchildren were reportedly seen in the lot engaged in sexual activities while others spied on them.
"The problems that we are facing are numerous and unbearable. They use over there to dispose sewage, filth, to sell drugs and for all sort of sexual purposes," complained Craig Denton, guidance counsellor at the St Aloysius Primary School.
"It affects the students who are on the upper part of the building, mostly those in grades one to three, because they are seeing what is taking place," said Denton.
"When that happens, the teachers have no control over their classes, the children are now frantic and screaming and shouting about what is taking place sexually in the open land," added Denton.
He noted that he has had to counselnstudents, particularly grade-six girls who witness the sexual acts.
"They see two people come and do their thing right at the side of the school and they feel that sort of behaviour is okay," said Denton.
There were no fires there when our news team visited last Wednesday, but two weeks ago, students had to be moved from three classrooms after vagrants lit a heap of old refrigerators and other debris, sending plumes of smoke into the air.
Last week, the stench of faeces, a rotting dog, sewage and some sort of chemical permeated the air around the open lot.
There was mosquito-infested garbage at some sections, while others reeked of urine. A heap of dirt was dumped over the area where teachers said the fire blazed two weeks ago.
School administrators said that whenever they speak to persons dumping garbage in the lot, they respond by stoning the school, smashing the windows of at least one grade three classroom.
"There are times that I have to have my windows closed. And you know we don't have air conditioning so the heat is unbearable," charged Hyacinth Swaby, who teachers 2C, one of the classes upstairs that had to be evacuated due to the smoke from the recent fire.
"I have a lot of asthmatic students and they are severely affected by the smoke. For some students, the fire two weeks ago was the worst day of their lives. It was extremely traumatic for them," said Swaby.
She said the fires have become so frequent that once they start, the youngsters, without even asking permission, will get up and close the windows.
"I don't look through the window because the children tend to copy your behaviour, and they will direct their attention through the window if they see you looking through the window," offered grade-two teacher Michelle Whitelock, who had the unfortunate experience of witnessing two people having sex in the premises years ago.
"What surprises me is that in this day and age when everyone is talking about health and safety, how is it that something like this could be going on for so many years so close to the school and nobody is doing anything about it?" said Whitelock.
Principal of St Aloysius Primary, Althea Palmer, suggested that the property would serve better as an extended playground for students from her school and the nearby St Joseph's Infant and St George's Girls' Primary and Infant School.
At these institutions, administrators have opted to hold sports day for the infants openly on a road next to the school because they do not have a playground.
Palmer showed the news team letters she wrote to the several state agencies seeking their intervention.
They include the Office of the Prime Minister, the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Commissioner of Lands, the Metropolitan Parks and Markets, and the National Land Agency.
All have responded unfavourably, even as they expressed empathy for the children sickened by the smoke.
In a letter dated September 24, 2010 from the Office of the Prime Minister, Palmer was told that, "The National Land Agency acquired the same (parcel of land) in 2006 specifically for the development of Justice Square. Should you require any further details on the projected timeline for the utilisation you may speak with Mrs Elizabeth Stair at the National Land Agency."
Fast-forward to December 15, 2015, the Ministry of Justice responded to another letter from Palmer stating that: "The land is owned by the Ministry of Justice ... the original intent for this site is the construction of a new Traffic Coroners Court.
"It is our intention now to use the property for the purposes of parking for persons attending the Corporate Area Civil Court (Sutton Street), thereby eliminating the problems which now exist with parking. The site is to be fenced and appropriate management controls implemented," the justice ministry said.
Recently, KSAC Town Clerk Robert Hill told The Sunday Gleaner that he was not aware of the school stating any interest in acquiring the land, and that the KSAC's records show no evidence of that.
"Our Poor Relief Department has visited the area and observed evidence of what would seem to be a homeless person residing there. The team didn't see anyone at the time of the visit," said Hill, who promised that the KSAC team would return for a second visit.
While the authorities and administrators ponder the planned purpose of the land, Rosemarie Clarke, principal of the St Joseph's Infant School, charged that they are wasting precious time.
"All we are saying is that the land is an eyesore, it is collecting garbage, and it is not safe for persons walking there or for us and the children who are suffering from the smoke. It has been idle for years. We could use it. It is the schools that will benefit," said Clarke.