By Mikaila Prince
Local civil engineering company, Courtney Benn Contracting Services Limited, has avoided justifying the reason(s) for abandoning the construction of the $352M St. Rose’s High School— a prestige project this same contractor was awarded some two years ago.
Kaieteur News, over the past seven days, has made several attempts to contact the contractor, all with hopes of receiving status reports on the construction of the new school, as well as their abandonment of it.
However, with each attempt came disappointment and concern, as the employees and/or its supervisors avoided providing details on their abandonment of the project to this publication.
Details of Courtney Benn’s desertion of the construction of the new school came to the fore last week when the school’s Boards of Governors (BoG) had revealed that despite being awarded an advancement of $60M, and just after completing a pile driving exercise, the contractor had removed all of their construction pile driving and other equipment, 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,” the Board indicated, while noting that no explanations were given to them by the contractor for this.
Kaieteur News had confirmed this evacuation during a visit to the Church Street site on September 3.
There, this publication was greeted with bushes, discarded pieces of logs and no personnel, not even a security guard. The only heavy-duty equipment on site was an unmanned Bobcat machine.
On Friday last, this publication made its first attempt to contact the supervisor responsible for the construction of the Church Street school, but was informed that he was unavailable.
At the time, Kaieteur News was only seeking to get an update on the construction of the two-year-old project.
The reporter provided their contact details to an employee, who promised that a call would be returned the following Monday, on September 7.
However, when that given day arrived, no calls were made out to the reporter or this publication, at which point further contact was made with the company. Once again, the reporter was informed that the supervisor was unavailable— in fact, that he was “out on lunch”— the reporter was told to call at a later time.
Numerous attempts were even made to request the number of the high-ranking staffer, but the employees refused to do so, despite the seriousness of the issue at hand.
On Tuesday, the school had released a statement to the press, in which they revealed that the construction of the state-of-the-art high school was further delayed, due to the abandonment of the project by the contractor. It had also stated that 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.”
Taking these details into consideration, Kaieteur News made another attempt to contact the supervisor but the mantra of their unavailability was chanted once more.
This line happened to be the justification each time contact was made seeking out the supervisor.
With the only direct contact being with that of the MoE, the Board said it now awaits their direction since the variation piling works have not been fully completed by the contractor, and no further aspects of the main building works have been approved nor have begun.
The design of the new school, which was discovered some 170 years ago, contains retained features which have been enhanced, including the internal courtyard, green space, garden feature, enhanced canteen and dining area, off-street drop off, pickup and parking via an internal driveway, wheelchair access to all levels via an elevator, a large 1,500-seat internal auditorium with stage and a separate audio/visual monitoring and control room, a new internal Physical Education Department, and a new Information Technology Laboratory.
St. Rose’s is one of the country’s top secondary schools. The previous building had to be taken down because of safety concerns.
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