By Mikaila Prince
The complete construction of a state-of-the-art building to house St. Rose’s High School (SRHS), which attracted a price tag of $352M, has been further delayed.
The disclosure was shared by the school’s Board of Governors which indicated that the contractor, Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited, has abandoned the project.
The Boards of Governors shared this and other details yesterday in a statement to the press in which they sought to respond to an article published on the school by Kaieteur News last Saturday.
The article had highlighted that little work was completed on the two-year old contract, despite the contractor receiving a $60M advance.
The Board stated that it was aware that the contract for the reconstruction aspect of the building was awarded through the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) by the Ministry of Education (MoE) to Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited, in August 2018.
It was, however, pointed out that the redesign and approval process for the variation to that contract to facilitate the new piling foundation works took over a year before it was approved by the Ministry.
The Board further stated that it had then tasked the contractor with installing approximately 220 timber piles in late in 2019, following the completion of the variation process.
The Board was informed by the Ministry that the contractor had requested a mobilization period to accumulate the number of piles, equipment and the relevant personnel and that the variation piling works of the said contract was set to commence early in 2020, which did occur.
It should be noted that in late 2019, the Auditor General (AG), Deodat Sharma, had advised the then A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) regime to terminate the multi-million dollar contract and to recover whatever monies were advanced.
This well-intended advice was issued after the AG recorded that little to no work had begun on the construction site, even after a year had passed.
Notwithstanding, as the variation process of pile installation unfolded, the Board observed that the contractor, in “a peculiar move”, refused to make their work plan public.
In fact, the contractor had also refused to share their work plan with the School Board, despite numerous formal attempts made to do so.
“Further the contractor,” the Board wrote in their statement, “sought to prevent the contracting entity (the Ministry of Education) from holding regular stakeholder consultation update meetings with the Board or any other stakeholders, which is vital for a project of this nature, size and complexity, as it allows for smooth execution of works, while keeping all informed of the issues and concerns arising from construction.”
The School Board juxtaposed this with the two other contracting services in the two previous states of this building redevelopment project, which had readily accepted and agreed to those vital safeguards while executing their works.
Those two entities were P.D. Contracting Incorporated, which had executed the demolition works aspect and Bynoe, Rowe and Wiltshire, which had executed the building design aspect of works.
In compounding issues, the Board further stated that it had observed that the consultants who were initially hired to overlook the construction process on behalf of the MoE, were not retained
for the variation stage of the contract execution as they chose to conduct that daily monitoring exercise internally from within the ministry.
“All of the above made it increasingly difficult for the Board to adequately consult, monitor, facilitate and safeguard the interest of the students and staff of the school, the Alumni, the Convent and the many other stakeholders at large,” it related.
Since the variation piling works began earlier this year, the Board detected that approximately 85-90% of the piling works had been completed by the contractor “in a relatively short space of time”.
However, recently it was observed that Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited had removed all of their construction pile driving and other equipment, and the remaining piles and all construction personnel from the site.
“It is an indication to the Board that the site has been seemingly abandoned by the contractor,” it said.
Kaieteur News confirmed this during a visit to the Church Street site last Thursday.
It was discovered that the site seemed abandoned, with bushes, discarded pieces of logs and no personnel, not even a security guard present.
Very little materials were on site, except for an unmanned Bobcat machine.
Kaieteur News has made several attempts to contact the supervisor responsible for the construction of the school under Courtney Benn.
When contact was made, the reporter was informed that the supervisor was unavailable, and when this publication requested a mobile number, the employee refused to provide one.
With the only direct contact being with that of the MoE, the Board says it now awaits their direction since the variation piling works have not been fully completed by the contractor, and further no aspect of the main building works has been approved nor has begun.
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