Queen’s College students yesterday protested the proposed construction of a canteen in an area on the school’s grounds presently used for Agricultural Science.
Bearing placards declaring the importance of their School Based Assessments (SBAs) and of agriculture itself, the students, during their lunch break, chanted to the rhythm of the congo drum. “No plants, no peace,” they declared. “No Agri, No food, No life,” they also said, before demanding that the school’s administration tell them what would happen to their SBAs.
On Tuesday, workers began dismantling the southern fence of the school’s agriculture plot in order to prepare the space for the construction of a building to house a canteen. The building plan for the canteen included 10 feet of space from the plot. This building is part of a second phase of work proposed in 1998 to replace the sections of the college destroyed by the 1997 fire.
These proposed works, which have in the last 18 years gone through at least three redesigns, were finally approved as a 2016 capital project of the Ministry of Education.
After the passage of the 2016 budget, the ministry proceeded to advertise, accept tenders and award a contract for the project all without informing the staff and students where the canteen would be located.
Fifth Form Student Cherie Frank described the situation as incredibly demoralising. “The fact that no one informed us that this is how we would be affected by this project makes us feel as if both the students and the subject are not being taken seriously. We feel that this subject and us are being marginalised,” she explained.
Her classmate, Crystal Andrews, explained that any construction in that area would render the plot unusable. “Construction here, with sand and cement flying, would negatively affect the poultry we are rearing as well as our crops, once it gets on the leaves and into the soil. It would also block the drainage,” she noted.
“This is where we conduct our cost benefit analysis, where we earn the 20% of our examination grade assigned to the SBA, and we have already put in a year of work,” Marinella Glasgow lamented.
Like the students, teachers also said that they were never informed about the impact the project would have on the plot. Though she would not speak with the media, head of the school’s Agriculture Department Delon Ogle, who on Tuesday launched a one-person protest against the action, spoke with Queen’s College Lictor Live Club, which posted the interview on its Facebook page.
In that interview, Ogle, who had spent Tuesday, seated at the entrance of the plot to prevent the workers from causing any damage to the crop beds, which the students had already prepared, explained that she was not aware of any construction until it was announced at the school’s General Assembly last Friday.
“The first time I heard about what was going on was on Friday, and I did not conceptualize what this would mean for the students and for the department, but now I recognise that this our main entrance would be blocked and the students’ SBAs and IAs would be affected,” she said, before adding that no one had spoken with her about the impact of the project on her department.
“Nobody said anything to me. Nobody had the common courtesy to say whatever damage is done we are going to make sure that the students’ beds are reformed or we are going to make sure that this does not affect CSEC or CAPE. No one said anything to me and I think that that is” disrespectful, Ogle lamented even as she called for stakeholders to engage her on plans for her department.
Ogle was not alone for long; once the construction workers began filling the surrounding drains with sand, students stepped in to prevent the action.
Yesterday, these students, who represent every level of the college from First to Upper Six Form, not only surrounded the plot to protect it from further destruction but several female students, shovels in hand, removed the sand that had been placed in the drain.
In the face of the protest, the school’s administration remained silent. Neither the principal nor any other member of the school’s Board of Governors approached the students during the 45 minutes they voiced their concerns.
The Board was, however, aware of this project and its impacts as were the academic administrators who sit on the Board.
Stabroek News contacted Minister of Education Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, Chairman of the Queen’s College Board Conrad Plummer and Principal Jackie Benn for comment on the decision making process and the student protest.
They each refused to offer a comment at this stage, with Roopnaraine stating that he would address the issue today. Benn explained that a meeting with stakeholders is scheduled to be held at the Ministry of Education today, after which an explanation might be forthcoming.
This newspaper was, however, able to speak with the Staff Representative on the Board, Samuel Sandy, who claimed to have informed the staff of the project. “They were informed that three capital projects had been approved for the 2016 fiscal year, including the construction of a canteen,” Sandy said. He could not say when he had informed staff of these projects but maintained that they were informed and no one requested further information or raised any objections.
Asked if he was aware that the building would not only reduce the size of the plot but also cut off access to the space, Sandy said no.
According to him, the building plan presented to the board did not show where the building would be placed in relation to the other buildings in the compound.
Asked to give his opinion of the students’ protest, Sandy said he understood their frustrations but would prefer that they used the grievance processes available to them.
There is a provision for a student representative on the Board. However, the student government within the school has been dormant for more than a decade.