Students and teachers at St Mary’s College are now enjoying the comfort of two refurbished Chemistry Labs, made available by funds raised by the St Mary’s College Past Students’ Union.
The refurbishment was done at a cost of $1.5 million.
The Past Student’s Union began the project two years ago, under the leadership of immediate past-president Robert Ramirez.
Students of St Mary’s College during a class in one of the newly refurbished Chemistry labs.
Courtesy St Mary's College.
“All the labs were in dire need of refurbishment. The Physics and Chemistry labs were the worse and needed upgrades to effectively deliver the syllabus,” Ramirez told Guardian Media.
The Past Student’s Union targeted fund-raising through its annual Carnival All-Inclusive, Fete With The Saints which has grown to become one of the most popular fetes on the Carnival calendar, as well as Dining With The Saints, an event that brings together former St Mary’s College students who prepare dishes for an evening of food and entertainment in the school’s big yard.
With the downturn in the economy resulting in lower and irregular subventions from the Government to Government-assisted schools, Ramirez said the money for the refurbishment was raised entirely by the fund-raising events over the last two years.
“Earlier this year we achieved the funds to meet it. We are always doing something to meet capital expenditure. We are deeply involved in capital and operating expenditure for the school,” Ramirez said.
Work began on the labs when CAPE and CSEC examinations were completed in June 2018.
With the students away, workmen had two months to overhaul the upper-floor room that had not seen any major change since the school was built 155 years ago.
“Work had to be done on the floor as water leaks caused dripping into classrooms below. Gas lines weren’t the best and required proper systems for lock-off. There were poor plumbing and lighting and the entire lab was hot and old and cluttered. There was also not enough space for the teacher to walk around in the classroom and store SBA assignments,” Ramirez noted.
A storage room for chemicals which forms part of the newly refubished Chemistry labs at St Mary's College.
Courtesy St Mary's College.
Nestor Lambert is an executive member of the Past Student’s Union.
“There is a lot to do in the school and we are always working to raise funds. We’ve found that when you touch a wall or a floor, there is always a little more needed to be done. But we felt that the labs were very important at this time,” Lambert said.
The result is that two labs have been refurbished, one for Form 5 which will accommodate 30 students at a time, and the other for Form 6 which will accommodate 20 students.
The entire project included a chemical storage room, two classrooms, raised teacher stations, chemical-resistant flooring, cement boarding, chemical resistant countertops and acid-resistant traps in the sinks.
Safety was also a very big focal point, involving an eye-wash station and shower and individual lock-off levels for plumbing and for gas.
“The whole lab was designed so that if something goes wrong you can isolate the problem rather than to shut down the entire lab,” Ramirez said.
Funds were also pumped into air-conditioning the labs and associated classrooms. There is a storage room for School-Based Assignments, a technicians room, a chemical storage room, chemical mixing room, extractor fans to make sure no one suffers illness from chemical infiltration, and outer storerooms.
“It’s a roomier environment. The lights are significantly better than before and it’s a lot better for the students to function,” Lambert added.
A student of St Mary's College during a class in one of the newly refurbished Chemistry labs.
Courtesy St Mary's College.
The Past Student’s Union also found generosity in some organisations that contributed to the refurbishment.
All electrical fittings were donated by Robert Tan Yuk of Tang Yuk Electrical and Trincon, Hadco and Clamens and Associates all played major roles in donating towards other aspects of the work.
Atlantic LNG funded repairs to the associated classrooms.
Ramirez told Guardian Media that this was a good example of how networking and fund-raising by school associations work.
“We make significant sacrifices and do a lot of hard work to plan fund-raising events but after seeing the fruition of projects that the money is raised for, it is significantly more fulfilling than the actual fund-raising events and puts the school in a position to continue the excellence that St Mary’s College is known for,” Ramirez said.
Lambert was of the same view.
“We focus not only on infrastructure but some of the fund-raising proceeds go towards things like teacher-development, programmes for the boy and in psychological areas too, such as helping with operations of the school and so on.”
With the students entering the new school term in September to brand new labs, the Past Student’s Union is now focussing its fund-raising efforts on other projects.
The school needs a new intercom system that would cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, among other things.
The work of the Past Student’s Union is not limited to St Mary’s College alone. It’s been the driving force behind ‘Priests Can Cook’, an event to raise funds for the 188 Catholic Primary Schools across the country, which amounts to a quarter of the primary school population in Trinidad and Tobago.
It also offers assistance in conjunction with the sister school, St Joseph’s Convent.
There have been joint concerts that funded the relief efforts to St Joseph’s Convent in Haiti following the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and has helped send teachers to Harvard University for training.
The school and Past Student’s Union are also involved in relief efforts following the recent floods.
St Mary’s College, which is also known as the College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC), was established in 1863 and accommodates close to 1,200 students.