History teacher Reverend Charles Morris may not agree, but Minister of Education Ronald Jones is insisting that sabotage has definitely been at play, amid the bothersome environmental woes ––including a nasty odour –– that have been pervasive at Combermere School for over two years now.
Delivering a detailed report on investigations and work carried out at the Government-run learning institution since March last year, Jones informed Parliament Tuesday morning that to date $707,000 of the $850,000 allocated had already been spent on effecting cleaning and repairs, including to the school’s sewerage system, and on the purchase of new equipment.
The minister also said the situation was still under active evaluation, while warning that there may be need for further spending by Government in the next financial year to allow for refuse collection in different areas, provision of a larger septic tank to serve the female students’ toilets; further drainage improvements around the building and an improved configuration and ventilation of the school’s cafeteria.
Taking part in the day’s debate, Jones also reiterated claims that the school had fallen victim to sabotage, even though there was still no indication given by him that anyone had been caught, or was likely to face official reprimand over the serious allegation.
However, he said the attention of his ministry and its partners had been drawn to what appeared to be “a deliberate attempt to sabotage the work that has been taking place over the last several months”, explaining that “on Thursday, January 5, 2017, hand towels and children book leaves were found to be blocking a drainage pipe from a toilet in the area where some complaints have been originated”.
Jones also reported that a similar incident had occurred on Monday, January 31 and that only last week two natural gas pipes in one of the labs were found on, about 45 minutes after a class.
“These incidents served to exacerbate anxiety, fuel uninformed speculation, and, at times, despite the diligent effort to find solutions, complicate attempts to assess those issues attributed to the plant,” he said, while assuring that those incidents had now been “put to bed”.
However, Morris is already on record as saying that he was not buying Jones’ explanation one bit.
Just last week the outspoken head of the school’s History Department accused the school’s administration of providing the Ministry of Education with “alternative facts” instead of admitting that the environmental concerns which forced the school’s closure last November had not been resolved.
The Anglican cleric was at the time responding to a press release issued by the Minister of Education, in which he denied reports that students were falling ill since the learning institution at Waterford, St Michael reopened in January.
“I am not going to blame the minister because he can only go by what information is said to him. But the administration of the school needs to deal with this issue honestly and tell the parents about it. It does not make sense hiding.
“Students are going home sick. There is no two ways about that. I am there and I see it. I know that the principal sent around asking for the details of those who were sick but a lot of students who were sick in the past three weeks would not have signed that because a lot of them were home. So that is pure foolishness because students went home sick the whole week,” Morris said at the time.
He had also queried why police were not called in to investigate the troubling allegations of sabotage, saying “these are stupid theories which cannot be verified.
“It has been theory after theory. Just last week we were told it was the stench from the horse stables out in Waterford, now this thing of sabotage resurfaces. Have you investigated sabotage? Why haven’t they called in the police?” Morris questioned.
The school, which has a roll of 1,130 students, 61 teaching staff and 13 non-teaching staff and 13 auxiliary staff, had been plagued with a range of environmental issues from May 2014 to December 2016.
Tuesday, Jones also pointed to a build up of refuse, odours, indiscriminate use of pesticides and or grease traps by neighbours as probable causes.
While commending those involved in the investigations and clean up efforts, Jones said the matter had brought to the fore the need to adequately maintain aging facilities, adding that he was confident that “with the continued preparation of all concerned” there would be no further “compromising of operations of the school”.