July 12, 2004 – The work of cleaning and fumigating the territory's public schools gets underway this week. Contractors and maintenance personnel from the Department of Education are expected to perform some minor repairs, but the large-scale repair projects identified by education officials are being put in the hands of private engineers, said the Education Department's chief of maintenance.
Louis Hughes, school maintenance director, said crews began the annual clean up on Friday. One of the major tasks this year will be to check for and eradicate any bug infestations, said Hughes, especially termites. "This is the year for cleaning. We are cleaning and getting rid of the termites because next year we plan on doing a little painting," he said.
There was a time when the smell of fresh paint signaled preparations for the new school year, but now, Hughes said, painting takes place less frequently.
Cleaning contractors are expected to get the work started at schools territory wide by Monday. Some contractors are also being hired to fix doors and perform small paving projects and sewer repairs.
Up until a few years ago, summer was the time for the department to not only clean but also undertake repair projects at the public schools. About four years ago the department opted instead for a year round school maintenance policy. Hughes said the cleaning, fumigation and minor repairs being done by his contractors do not include major repair projects.
Education officials appearing before the Senate Education Committee identified more than a dozen repair projects earlier this year. Sen. Carlton Dowe wrote to Education Commissioner Noreen Michael reminding her of the $4 million dollars set aside by the V.I. government to perform those repairs and asking for a progress report.
Among the identified projects were refurbishing of classrooms at the Leonard Dober Elementary School, repairs for the Antonio Jarvis Elementary School, and construction of an athletic track for the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
As of Friday, Dowe said, all he had received by way of a response was a comment from the Education Department saying talks were underway.
According to Hughes, talks took place last week between an unidentified engineering contractor and officials from the Public Finance Authority.
Those talks, he said, would lead to action on the designated list of repair projects, which, according to Hughes, would likely get started after the cleaning and maintenance crews had finished their work for the summer.
"That program that Sen. Dowe was speaking about is a larger scale project than what we are working on. That project cannot be started and finished before we get back into school," Hughes said.
The unidentified contractor, according to Hughes, will develop scopes of work for each project and publish bid requests to hire the contractors who will perform the repairs.
Attempts to reach the director of the PFA and the education commissioner on Monday were unsuccessful.
Dowe agreed that a quick resolution of the project list was unlikely, but said he felt reassured to know some progress was being made, albeit spurred by public pressure. "I know they cannot be started now and completed. Those are major capitol projects, he said. "I didn't expect them to be finished but we must start, so I'm really glad to know they are moving in the direction of hiring an engineer to draw the architectural plans."
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