The construction team works to meet an end-of-March deadline for the Sligoville mini-stadium. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
OBLIVIOUS TO the construction taking place at the Sligoville stadium near to his home, Byron Knibbs packed his van with produce for his regular trip to Kingston.
Knibbs, a farmer, was born and raised in Sligoville, a hilly St. Catherine farming community about 10 miles from Spanish Town.
Jamaica's first free village was established there by Baptist minister James Phillipo in 1835, in anticipation of the Emancipation of slaves three years later.
The stadium, a gift from the Government of China, is being built by the Shanxi Construction Engineering (Group Corporation) company. A total of 94 Chinese nationals, including engineers, managers, designers and construction workers, are involved, as well as locals.
Carlton Rattray of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Gleaner that things are on track for the end-of-March completion. The stadium will replace the 18th century great houses that line the landscape, as Sligoville's largest structure.
The $228 million facility will house a football field, a 400-metre track, a netball court and cricket field. The complex will also house a police station and post office.
NOT A GOOD IDEA
Byron Knibbs, who works a five-acre plot on the Highgate Great House adjacent to the stadium, is not keen on Sligoville's latest attraction. He pointed out that there are no vibrant sports teams in the area, and believes the funds should have been spent on agricultural projects.
"When the idea of the stadium came up, we as farmers asked for a tomato factory which would be more profitable to the community," he told The Gleaner. "We don't get much help from the Ministry of Agriculture or RADA (Rural Agricultural Development Authority), so I see this mini-stadium as a vacuum to the community," Knibbs added. "Whatever comes in will go out back."
The police station and post office which stood at the site, were demolished and will be replaced by modern buildings. Knibbs said the temporary loss of both have cost residents.
"Right now, man an' man know sey nuh police nuh dey roun' the area him can pass through an' do him ting," he said. "The post office situation is an inconvenience 'cause yuh have pensioner a walk from yah so to Mount Moreland fi collect dem tings."
Launched with much fanfare, the stadium has hit some ruts. There was a month-long stoppage in September as the St. Catherine Parish Council said no building plan had been submitted to start construction.
That incident, said Owen Stephenson, councillor for the Sligoville division since 1998, was a mere hiccup. He sees the Sligoville stadium as a sign of better days for a community where unemployment is high among disillusioned youth.
"Sligoville is ripe for development right now, especially in the sphere of historic tourism and ecotourism," said Stephenson, a former Spanish Town Mayor. "We also have acres and acres of lands in the area that are ripe for housing development plus business enterprises which can provide jobs."
Unemployment, Stephenson noted, is his consituents' biggest concern. Many persons in Sligoville depend on farming for their livelihood but Stephenson said with a population of just over 5,000 people, banking on a major agricultural centre would not be logical.
Sligoville was not always the sleepy town where time seemed to stand still. In the 1940s, self-styled Rasta leader Leonard Howell led hundreds of followers to an area known as Pinnacle and operated a thriving ganja plantation.
'Howellites' cultivated ganja reportedly worth thousands of sterling, and produced quality craft items. After a raid by police that got national attention in 1954, Howell and Pinnacle went bust.
No illegal activity is on the cards for the Sligoville stadium. When the final blocks are laid, pessimists like Byron Knibbs and optimists like Owen Stephenson will pray it results in a new day for Sligoville.