Sat | Sep 25, 2021

10 years later, Armadale transformed

Published:Wednesday | May 22, 2019 | 12:29 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer
Students in the beauty therapy class.
Students in the beauty therapy class.

A decade ago today, the nation awoke to the harrowing news that five young ladies had perished in a fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre in Alexandria, St Ann. The figure later climbed to seven as two other wards of the state succumbed to injuries sustained in the blaze. Several others were injured.

The survivors were transferred to another government institution. But nothing could take away the memory of the tragedy and, indeed, the agony of those who suffered and the pain brought on to their families. Some wept openly.

With the facility ordered closed immediately after the fire by then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, the girls were eventually relocated to Diamond Crest Villa in Manchester, with Armadale no longer existing on the books of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS).

On Tuesday, efforts to get a comment from the senior director or director of human resources at the DCS were unsuccessful. But while nothing can erase the memory of what happened on that Friday night 10 years ago, a new phase in the life of the facility is under way.

In 2015, the Armadale Skills Training Centre was opened at the facility by then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller after a transformation of the centre by then Member of Parliament for South West St Ann, Keith Walford.

After a change in administration following the 2016 general election, nothing happened at the facility until it was rebranded the Alexandria College of Continuing Education and reopened last year, catering to unattached youths.

Walford said the plans he had put in place were to help the community move on from the tragedy.

“It really gives you a sense of relief,” Walford commented on Monday. “At one point, it was ­looking as if all the hard work we had put into it was going in vain, so we are happy now that something positive is coming on stream.

“As member of parliament, I was very passionate about that project. We know that so many lives were lost there, and we were trying to bring something good out of it. The arrangements were there that as soon as the buildings were furnished, HEART Trust/NTA would be coming in to take over and would be paying the tutors and running the institution.”

Walford also hailed the school’s impact on the community.

“I know it must create a positive impact because once you have students there learning, then it has to be positive,” he argued.

HEART’s programme coordinator at the facility, Roanne Davidson, told The Gleaner that the college currently has 130 students enrolled in six disciplines: beauty therapy, allied health, guided tours, cake baking, landscaping, and electrical installation, along with the High School Diploma Equivalent (HSDE) programme. The courses last between six and nine months, and students are HEART-certified upon completion.

While allied health, which involves practical nursing, is the most popular course, several young women were in attendance at the beauty therapy class when The Gleaner visited.

“They are making use of the opportunity. We have students even from Clarendon,” Davidson pointed out.

A community member who lives close to the institution said he was happy that the facility is a beacon of hope. To him, the community seems to be moving on, finally.

“Is a good thing, is a good thing. It better them train young people more than have it idle and a waste,” he said. “If it stay empty, each time we look up deh we jus’ a go tink ‘bout the girls dem who burn up. But if we have a training centre, it means say something good a gwaan up deh.”