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Saturday, December 07, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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The plight of Lower Morvant Government
Jerren Nixon, a former national football player, as a boy used to kick ball in the yard of the Lower Morvant Government School (LMGS), the primary school he attended. Today’s Jerren Nixons would have it harder. The schoolyard’s pitch surface is rutted and crumbling. A few weeks ago, a ten-year-old boy tripped in one of the ruts and badly injured one knee. He got five stitches and still has to go to change his dressing once a week, the boy said.
He’s not the only victim of the yard at the school on Lady Young Avenue, Morvant. School officials have been complaining about it for some time now, a source at the school said. Standard Five teacher Susanne Duncan, the TTUTA representative on the LMGS board, says she broke her ankle in the yard three years ago. It cost her five months away from work.
When I visited the school on October 15, the yard was only one of a number of sore spots the school board president, my brother Dennis Allen, pointed out. Several toilets don’t work; multiple fluorescent light bulbs are blown, leaving the buildings gloomily lit; there are termites in the ceiling and holes in the roof.
The information technology room is locked up because the school’s intranet is down and the room’s air conditioning is not working. The back of the school floods so often a virtual alluvial plain has formed, with weeds growing in the bed of silt. The school, which ordinarily would have been subject to repairs and repainting over the long holidays, wasn’t touched in 2013 by the Educational Facilities Co Ltd (EFCL)—probably because the school is scheduled to be rebuilt.
On Friday, the EFCL Web site still featured the invitation to tender. It is a design and build tender request, with a deadline of November 16, 2012. Sources at the school say a tender has been approved and plans drawn up by the consultant, Vikab Engineering. A contractor has been hired but the school has not seen its final building plans yet.
The staff were advised to pack up their belongings since January, 2013; in October there were still boxes of teaching materials stacked at the back of classrooms. Shelves and desks are still labelled with the names of the rooms they should be placed in after moving.
In a recent newspaper ad, Duncan said, the Education Ministry named LMGS as one of the schools already under reconstruction. In fact, the school is listed in the 2009 Public Sector Investment Programme, a government allocations document, as being under construction.
LMGS principal Roopchan Ram, sitting at his desk labelled “Office” in black marker on masking tape strips, declined to comment on the rebuild and the move. He did say that the school was first opened in August of 1960 using the pre-existing sheds of the Morvant Market, a post-World War II structure. The location gave rise to the school’s nickname, “Market School.”
The school is still in those sheds, which are walled in with breeze blocks and BRC wire, the same walls I remember from my own days as a LMGS pupil 35 years ago. Blackboards separate the classrooms in the upper school; the noise level during lunchtime, when I visited, was moderately deafening. I could just imagine how loud it would get when classes were in session.
A representative from Vikab Engineering reached by telephone refused to identify himself or give comment on when the rebuild would take place. He referred me to the EFCL. Barry Jonas, of the EFCL, reached by telephone, also refused to comment. He referred me to EFCL corporate secretary Khadine Spencer; she did not answer the number Jonas gave me for her.
Calls to the Ministry of Education’s communications department also proved futile. An unidentified man who answered that call referred me to Yolanda Morales-Carvalho, the ministry’s media co-ordinator, but she was not in office on October 25 when I called. I asked another man, who answered the phone at the office of the chief educational officer, “Why is the school not being rebuilt if tenders went out since last year?”
Declining to be identified, he replied, “I don’t have the information. If I did I would have shared it with you.” Ongoing discussions between the PTA and the ministry to temporarily rehouse the school at another location have been inconclusive, Allen indicated.
Plans ranged from a suggestion that the school use the community centre in Mon Repos, where, he said, people have been shot more than once, to the old Aranguez Junior Secondary compound, which is itself an active construction zone. There were suggestions that LMGS share another primary school’s compound on a shift system, or house the pupils at the nearby Russel Latapy High School. Both of these were deemed untenable.
The most acceptable solution to the problem appears to be housing the school at the Church on the Rock, Morvant, Allen said. Pastor of the church, Rev Dr Benjamin Agard, did not answer a call to his cell phone on October 25. However, the church, on the Lady Young Road, Morvant, would have ample space, would not endanger the pupils and staff, and would not displace or badly inconvenience another school.
When this move will happen, or even if it will happen at all, is a mystery. Meanwhile, the staff and 300-plus pupils of LMGS sit in a kind of limbo. They can neither plan for the year nor make repairs to their ageing school. The ruts in the yard get deeper and the weeds grow higher and higher.
Lisa Allen-Agostini is a former pupil of Lower Morvant Government School. Her brother Dennis Allen is the president of its school board.
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