While the residents of Buxton and the Ministry of Education (MoE) continue to be at odds over the fate of the building which houses the Buxton Primary School, the students of that school have been comfortably accommodated at the Company Road Primary.
Following two separate evaluations of the building which houses the Buxton Primary School on the East Coast of Demerara and the Hendon’s Nursery School, the MoE decided to close Hendon’s Nursery and relocate the students of Buxton Primary until such time as the building could be properly rehabilitated.
When Stabroek News visited Company Road Primary to check on the transition of the teachers and learners it observed what several described as a relatively smooth process. The school appeared to have enough space to house the teachers and learners of both schools comfortably.
Regional Executive Officer of Region 4 Pauline Lucas explained to Stabroek News that Company Road was selected as an alternative space because of its proximity to Buxton Primary and its housing capacity.
“The school has the capacity to hold 225 students but currently houses about 150 so they should be able to comfortably accommodate all 69 students of the Buxton Primary as well as their teachers who have been seconded to Company Road,” she said, stressing that the students were not being assimilated.
“We are maintaining the identity of the Buxton Primary. It is expected that once the school is rehabilitated the teachers and students will return so they are still wearing their uniforms and being taught by their teachers,” she explained.
Guyana Teacher’s Union Regional Vice President for Demerara, Collis Nicholson who is also a teacher at Company Road explained to Stabroek News that in the processes of the relocation which were negotiated between the community and the region, he was most concerned that the teachers were not negatively affected.
“We just want our teachers to be comfortable and what is best for them. We have said to all and sundry that temporarily relocating one school to another will affect the Head teachers. We have advised that the head of Buxton Primary, Shelly Peachtree, be reassigned to the Department of Education and work in the literary unit there as she is one of the literacy supervisors of the region. Hendon’s is now closed so its head, Rhonda Isaacs has been given an administrative appointment as head of Chateau Margot Nursery where a vacancy exists. Her two staff members have been transferred to Company Road Nursery where the learners from that school had been moved,” he explained.
He noted that because the vacancy at Chateau Margot had never been advertised, since until recently there was a substantive head, Isaacs would be able to have an upgrade from a D Grade head (Hendon’s) to a C Grade Head (Chateau Margot).
Asked to explain how the need to renovate the school came to her attention, Lucas told Stabroek News that the problems with the school came to light after $15M was allocated in this year’s budget to effect repairs to the building. In light of the allocation a decision was taken by the Region on the suggestion of several councillors to have the building properly evaluated.
“It was suggested that we have a proper engineer’s evaluation conducted so that we would be sure … that the repairs we were conducting were all that was needed. The sum that was allocated was for minor works such as a kitchenette, air vents and rest room in the nursery and the changing of floor boards and painting in the primary,” she said.
However, after an evaluation was conducted on the building it was found that the school did not meet the non-academic norms for a school building. Chief among the concerns raised by the regional engineer were that the norms prohibit housing Nursery and Primary students together and prescribe “adequate” play space for learners.
“The school simply does not have these things so there is no way for the building to fit the non-academic norms,” Lucas said. Asked to explain how allocations came to be made if the school was in conflict with the regulations, Lucas said she could not answer as she was not at the region at that time.
However, when the Region first attempted to close the school, the community vehemently objected and requested that an independent assessment be conducted.
This assessment was conducted by MoE Engineer Victor Graham. Graham also found the building to be in violation of the prescribed education norms and recommended that it would take at least $40 Million dollars to bring the school in line as upgrades would be needed for electrical wiring, plumbing, flooring and fencing among other areas.
The region has said that it cannot accommodate such a sum until the 2018 budget as its 2017 budget has already been completed while the central ministry through Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine has committed to attempting to include the rehabilitation in its 2017 budget.
Though this assessment was accepted by a five-member committee established by the community to represent their interest in the matter, some continue to object to the state of affairs. President of the Buxton Primary Parent-Teacher’s Association (PTA) Deon Simon told Stabroek News that while he is happy that the students appear comfortable, he is still not convinced that the school building needed to be abandoned.
“Not even two years ago we repaired both steps and changed all the windows. Why spend that money when you intended to close the school all the time? I want to know who the mastermind behind this is because it seemed to be well planned out. My wife and I personally approached Clyde Roopchand before his death about repairing that school and he lobbied for the allocation.
Now he’s dead and they are closing the school,” he said.
Simon and several others are deeply concerned about the future of the building which has much historical significance.
This concern is not without merit as Minister of Education Dr Roopnaraine has been reported by the Government Information Agency as saying that “it is still to be decided whether or not a different location will be considered for the construction of the new building for the Buxton Primary School.”