REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
GETTING OUR CHILDREN AND TEACHERS BACK HOME TO ESHS CAMPUS
COMMENCEMENT OF PROJECT AND CONTRACT SIGNING CEREMONY
THE REDEVELOPMENT OF THE ELMORE STOUTT HIGH SCHOOL CAMPUS:
DEMOLITION AND SITE CLEARANCE & DESIGN CONSULTANCY SERVICES
2 DECEMBER, 2021
Good Day and God’s Blessings to each and every one under the sound of my voice, especially to the children and teachers of the Virgin Islands. Let me begin by reiterating that the children of the Virgin Islands are the future of the Virgin Islands, and they deserve the best learning environment possible. Our teachers are the vanguards of our future and they deserve the best working environment possible.
Some persons ask why do we do these ceremonies? I ask them why not? Some persons tell me that the Government is a picture taking Government, and I ask them why not? Because there are some persons who choose not to be happy, and their intention is to post anything that is not going right. So, since that category is already being taken care of, we will take care of the category of what is going right.
I know that our children, our teachers and our parents have been through some very challenging and frustrating times since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck our shores in 2017. I know it has not been easy. And I also know that many feel that their plight has been forgotten as your Government, and our agencies and departments, had to divert a considerable portion of our attention and resources to battling the COVID-19 global pandemic over the past 20 months, and is continuing to do so as of now. But I want to reassure you that your Government has not forgotten our pledges and our responsibilities towards you.
The old adage asks if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, so too it is with a lot of the work that your Government has been doing over the past 20 months. A lot of things are happening in the background where it is not being seen. You cannot commence a major project without geotechnical investigations, project plans, designs, RFPs and RFQs, estimates, funding allocations and so forth. And the nature of these activities is that they are less visible than bulldozers and steel superstructures. Therefore, I completely understand how persons can come to assume, albeit incorrectly, that nothing is happening.
But can I tell you that we have come to this point in our efforts to rehabilitate and reconstruct the Elmore Stoutt High School through more than seven months of diligent work – necessary work that has been taking place unseen in the background?
And may I add here that I do thank our students, teachers and parents for their patience.
When your Government took office in 2019, we made it clear that ensuring that our students and teachers have a comfortable and conducive environment was one of our top priorities. And we started, with tremendous pace, to get this done.
You would recall that we pushed forward and got the L-shaped building refurbished – which we have renamed in honour of our beloved educator, L Aldorothy Turnbull. Many persons said it was impossible to get the building ready for occupancy by September of that same year. But your Government pushed, with the Ministry of Finance and Dr. Glasgow leading the charge. We mobilized the funding and we engaged with some of our local contractors to push the work forward in time for the September 2019 opening of the school term.
And we would have maintained our pace had COVID-19 – the worst pandemic in over 100 years - not come about in the first quarter of 2020. May I add, just like today, we did in 2019. We did it using the skills and expertise of our people of the Virgin Islands and not foreigners.
Also in September 2019, your Government upgraded the facilities at the CTL Warehouse in Pasea Estate, where our seniors were housed, to make the environment more comfortable. Suffice it to say there is really only so much you can do with a building that was not designed to house a school, and we knew the ultimate solution is that we simply have to get our children and teachers back home to the ESHS Campus where they belong. And it is time to get our students and our teachers back home.
Over the past several months, the Government of the Virgin Islands through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture partnered with the Virgin Islands Recovery and Development Agency (RDA), to provide a time sensitive solution to moving the senior students of the Elmore Stoutt High School out of the CTL Building in Pasea Estate and onto the main campus in Road Town.
It was time that we make sure that we modernize the Elmore Stoutt High School Campus. After all, it is named after a man with class, and it is time for it to start to look like it has class.
The approach that has been settled upon is for the construction of three two-story buildings on the Eastern side of the ESHS campus that will be utilized in the longer term beyond the repatriation of the senior students into an acceptable classroom environment, for maintenance, science and technical schools respectively. The buildings will be incorporated into the permanent master plan for the ESHS campus. The project will use traditional style construction methods which utilizes existing know how in the Virgin Islands to the fullest extent.
This work is being undertaken in phases. The first phase runs from 10 December, 2021, to 7 January, 2022, and involves demolition of the concrete slabs from the remnants of the old buildings and the removal of debris from the facility to an approved landfill site – of course, in an environmentally friendly manner with due safety to protect all individuals inside and outside of the site. This phase of the project will cost just over $136,079, and has been awarded to Sand Wise Limited. The source of the funding is the Government of the Virgin Islands.
Simultaneously, we are also commencing the design consultancy phase. This work will begin on 2 December, 2021, and must be completed by 14 January, 2022. The cost of the design phase is just over $99,000. The selected consultant is Trojan Design and Development Limited who will be responsible for preliminary and final For Tender architectural drawings, 3D rendered concept drawings, price detailed Bill of Quantities, among other responsibilities. The procurement method used was Quality and Cost Based Selection (QCBS), and the opportunity, I am advised, was sent to the 10 local firms which participated in the West End Ferry Terminal consultancy.
Once the designs are done we are anxious to push to the next stage—and there will be no delay—which will be the tendering for the buildings and then the successful bidders will start the construction. We must get our students, the principal, teachers, support staff and others back home here on this Elmore Stoutt High School Campus by the start of 2022/2023 school year. No “ifs”; no “buts”; no “maybes;” no excuses!
Your Government has already allocated just over $7 million for this initiative in the 2022 Budget. And we are going to push and make this happen.
So it is not money that we have to look for; it is already allocated. When you hear the budget has passed, despite all the other debate—what might be there in the budget, what might not be there in the budget—one thing is there in the budget: the rehabilitation of the Elmore Stoutt High School Campus. For that we say to God be all the Glory.
Let me say that I have confidence in our local contractors to deliver this work, just like we had in them in for the L-Shaped Building – especially when the project is being managed by the RDA, which is a Unit under the Premier’s Office. We are seeing a large volume of projects – some very ambitious being completed early or on time, with quality work and good budget management - and this is happening under the leadership of our very own Mr. Anthony McMaster.
For the record, I did not give him the “Acting” and I hope to remove it under our stewardship.
Can I tell you how proud I feel a former teacher, a former assistant principal and a former Minister of Education – and now as Premier, when I see our Virgin Islands people leading our organizations and institutions, and leading our development? I am beaming with joy. I firmly believe that the people of the Virgin Islands has all that it takes to make sure that we move to another level as a people. We just have to do one thing: continue to prepare and stay united.
This was the vision of our first Chief Minister H. Lavity Stoutt, when he said education is the key to our development, and why he placed so much emphasis on education. It is why he defied the powers of the day to establish the Community College that bears his name. My team in the Government and I see our sacred duty as carrying forward that mantle.
And often times the younger generation, would forget or never know the contribution he made to education. I thank the Minister of Education and Honourable Vanterpool for some of the history lessons so that we may never forget that H. L. Stoutt came at a time when there were only persons who were privileged to get a secondary education. And he broke that mold. Too many times we set up structures in our country for only some to survive, and it takes unconventional people to come forward to make sure that we broke those molds so that many people whosoever will and qualify can get that opportunity.
That is why when I was the Minister of Education, seeing the importance of education, I ensured that we utilized the scholarships and grants to educate and train our people so that they could take on the leadership roles in the development of our country. And I am proud to see that when we took office in March 2019 and we issued the call for them to serve their Virgin Islands in their respective fields, many answered the call. Following H. L. Stoutt’s vision, what we have done in the past was to prepare our people for the present and the future. And this is what we continue to do working today to secure the future of the Virgin Islands and her people.
As I always tell the people of the Virgin Islands, the future belongs to the prepared. So if you want to take on the future and be successful, you have to prepared.
Upon taking office in 2019, your Government has reinstated the scholarship programme abroad—and I thank the Minister of Education who pushed for that. It may seem simple to some, but nothing is more gratifying then when you can give persons who earn it scholarships that could not afford it, that came from families who could not afford to send them to school, and get a scholarship from the scholarship programme from the Government of the Virgin Islands, and go abroad and be able to excel education-wise and be able to move themselves and their families from poverty to prosperity. That is what you call preparing your people.
We have expanded that scholarship programme by leaps and bounds, so that more Virgin Islanders can access higher education and training. And there are even more educational opportunities to come in the very near future, because we have to further develop our capacity and capabilities to push our development, our economy and our society to unlock their potential.
Your Government is serious when we say that the children of the Virgin Islands are the future of the Virgin Islands, and our teachers are the vanguards of our future, and that they deserve the best learning and working environment possible. And we have backed this up in the 2022 Budget with allocations of $8.5 million for upgrading some of our school infrastructure with many of those projects being channeled through the RDA. We have put our money where our mouth is.
Just as we are pushing forward with this work at the ESHS, we are addressing a number of other schools such as the Isabella Moris Primary School, the Jost Van Dyke Primary School, the Bregado Flax Educational Centre in Virgin Gorda, and the Eslyn Henley Richez Special Needs Learning Centre. Apart from this, a further $1 million is allocated through local funding for rehabilitation and remedial works on various schools throughout the Virgin Islands, and we are looking to add a further $1 million to this cause before the budget process is over. Mold remediation on all public schools will continue through 2022.
That is just some of the infrastructure work. I have not even gone into the increased allocations for school supplies by over $255,000 from last year’s allocation, and other funds that are being pumped into education in 2022 budget and beyond. We are putting our money where our mouth is in education.
Wherever our children and our teachers are displaced from their proper schools, we have to get them back home. This is our mission.
Your Government is committed to our children who are the future of these Virgin Islands. Our commitment is real and serious. Success has a price. Many persons are not willing to pay the price, but it is affordable to all who want success for the right reasons to fulfill God’s purpose.
Your Government has allocated the funds and it is now for all our partners and stakeholders to push the work. Whether it is the RDA, the Ministries, the Premier’s Office, the Ministry of Finance, the contractors – we have to push and get our teachers and our students back home where they belong.
We have to move our country from the state of “almost,” there are too many things that we are doing in this country that is almost happening to have them accomplished. If anyone who works with me wonders why do I push, it is because I am ready to get out of the state of “almost.”
And may I say to our students, I know you are under challenges. But challenges toughen you up and prepare you for bigger things later in life. You also have to push through the obstacles and keep your trust in God. And I know you can do it, because you come from a long line of persons who have overcome adversities – some far worse than you can imagine, and thankfully which you will never have to endure. Once God has organized your future, which he is, no one can take it from you. The strength is inside you; you just have to connect with it and you will see that no mountain is too high and no valley is too low. You just need to have as much faith as the size of a mustard seed in yourself and in God.
All the Government is, is acting as a connector, like a television with a satellite. It cannot work and show you those channels unless you connect them. Today by signing these contracts, today by making sure that we put the funding in place, today by making sure that we invest in education, we are connecting the satellite with the television, so that our channels with prosperity will be unlimited.
I want to say that, just in a closing passing note, that sometimes I get confused when I hear them say that this is a Government of talk and no action. Because I have to remind myself that yes, sometimes it’s good not to listen. But sometimes it’s also good to respond, because when you don’t respond to certain things it becomes your reality. Never let anyone’s opinion of you become your reality. But, just in case some of you believe them, I’ll just mention a few in passing as I close.
We have the increment for public officers, including teachers, that is being given right now—and I know most of you will have a much better Christmas as a result. That is not talk; that is action. Major repairs and rehabilitation to the Bregado Flax Educational Complex which we turned over a few weeks ago. That was not talk; that was action. Salary revision and job reclassification of our public officers, that includes teachers, with the DG in the Governor’s Office that is happening right now. That is not talk; that is action. The modernization of our public service through the approved and on-going public transformation initiative, being done jointly with the Governor and Deputy Governor, which includes teachers. That is not talk; that is action. The North Sound Administration building being completed and turned over in North Sound. That is not talk; that is action. The L. Adorothy Turnbull building finished, and is being used, and yes—more repairs will be done. But, it was done by our local contractors. That is not just talk; that is action. We have the Vanterpool building in Virgin Gorda that has been completed and will be officially turned over soon. That is not just talk; that is action. We have the Flax building in Virgin Gorda completed and will be turned over soon. That is not just talk; that is action. We have the administration building in Anegada finished and completed, and ready to be turned over. That is not just talk; that is action. We have the basketball court in Anegada completed so our youngsters could now have recreational opportunities like the rest of us in Anegada—and properly fenced. That is not just talk; that is action. We have the Jost Van Dyke school fully air-conditioned, all classrooms, electrical workings and everything. That is not just talk; that is action. We have the Jost Van Dyke School going to be built and going out for tender very soon through the RDA. That is not just talk; that is action.
At a time when we have limited resources in high demand. At a time when COVID is here. At a time when we are working in the wake of two category 5 hurricanes and a major flood. At a time when the OECD taxation is challenging us. At a time when our financial services are being challenged. At a time when we had to do the Triple I Code, an audit just a few weeks ago, and come out rather well. At a time when we have seen more challenges than any other time in the history of the world, we have made sure that it was not just talk; it was action.
I close by reminding our team at the RDA and all the other persons we are depending on in the Ministries, as well as our consultants and contractors; the bell is rung on this project. School is in, and by the time the bell rings in the afternoon and school is out we want to see the building and the children moving in Septembers. The commitment is made to get these facilities ready for our students and teachers by the 2022/2023 term. We are counting on you to deliver. I know you’ll get it done, because that is your track record. And get it done properly and on time. And let us get our students and teachers back home where they belong.
My God continue to bless and protect our Virgin Islands and her people, and may he be extra watchful over our students and our teachers. And as I used to teach, I can only end it mathematically. May he multiply his favour on us. May he subtract the plans of the enemy. May he divide those who intend to hold back this project. May he exponentially give prosperity to this project. And may he forever bracket us in his love.
I thank you.