Crushed dreams! - Schools lose hope of turning empty lot into playing field
After more than a decade of seeking permission to turn a problematic empty lot into a well-needed playing field for students, last week administrators at the St Aloysius Primary School in Kingston had their hopes crushed when the Ministry of Justice signed a $15-million contract to turn the property into a parking lot.
The contract was signed between the Government and representatives of the Turbo Construction Company, which was commissioned to construct the parking lot, said to be well-needed for civilians and administration at the Corporate Area Civil Court on Sutton Street.
Turbo Construction Company is also to carry out works on a perimeter wall and to pave the ground. The work should take 90 days, a release last Thursday from the justice ministry read.
"The contract, valued at over $15 million, was signed at a press briefing held at the Justice Complex in Kingston between the ministry and Turbo Construction Company Limited, who was the successful bidder following the procurement process," the release stated.
"The signing of this contract is part of several contracts signed recently to undertake restorative works at courthouses in Kingston and St James valued at over $38 million. This, to effect the transformation of the justice system for a more effective and efficient sector," continued the statement, which also quoted Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the ministry.
For more than a decade, the land has been plagued with the stench of human faeces, dead animals and smoke rising from burning debris strewn there by residents from nearby communities.
Earlier this year, two schoolchildren were reportedly seen in the lot engaging in sexual activities while others spied on them. Vagrants, drug addicts and drug sellers are also said to frequent the lot to carry out their ill-practices.
"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, earlier this year.
"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, adding that smoke from the fires affected classrooms on the upper floors.
The school administrators said they made repeated appeals to the Ministry of Justice, the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC), and the Office of the Prime Minister, among other relevant authorities, to transform the abandoned land into a playground; however, in all instances the requests were turned down.
In a letter dated September 24, 2010, the Office of the Prime Minister wrote that: "The National Land Agency acquired the same (parcel of land) in 2006 specifically for the development of Justice Square."
In December last year, school administrators were again turned down by the Ministry of Justice, which stated that the land would be used as a car park.
"It is our intention now to use the property for the purpose of parking for persons attending the Corporate Area Civil Court, thereby eliminating the problems which now exist with parking. The site is to be fenced and appropriate management controls implemented," the justice ministry said.
The recent revelation came as a "soft disappointment" to school officials, many of whom said they had already lost hope of ever securing the property for the students.
The property, they said, would have served as a well-needed playground for students from St Aloysius Primary and St Joseph's Infant schools, as well as neighbouring St George's Primary School for Girls, where administrators use a nearby side-road for sports day events, as the school is bereft of a playground.
However, some teachers are still holding out hope, arguing that the earmarked car park could still serve as a playground for the schools.
Both Chuck and Palmer lauded the signing of the contract, but made no mention of the request made by the schools.
The minister said the transformation of the justice system extends beyond political divides and that it will "make Jamaica more attractive to investors, and reduce crime and violence".
Palmer, in charging contractors, said they must "see themselves as partners having an obligation to execute the work on time and within budget".