Oct. 4, 2006 — Taking school maintenance out of the hands of the Education Department would give "educators" the opportunity to focus on academia instead of "spending hours" dealing with school repairs, Dr. Emily Carter, superintendent of schools for the St. Thomas-St. John district, said during an Education, Culture and Youth Committee meeting Wednesday.
Carter explained that the department, with its small maintenance crews, would be better equipped to handle minor and emergency maintenance issues that arise during the school year, instead of major capital improvement projects.
Giving the responsibility to another department, such as Public Works, would free up more time for Education officials to "focus on what we're trained to do– teach," she said.
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael added that while the department was able to take care of all "immediate school repairs" prior to the start of the 2006-2007 school year, officials are still put at a "disadvantage" due to the department's lack of a "qualified and licensed maintenance staff."
The absence of such individuals have resulted in "persistent" electrical, plumbing and air conditioning problems, she said.
Later in the meeting, Carter explained that at least three schools in the territory are suffering from "burst pipes" and have had their plumbing rerouted.
In an effort to alleviate some of the maintenance problems, Education has been collaborating with the Division of Personnel to consolidate and upgrade many of its school maintenance positions, and has also developed a "short-form contract" process to allow the department to procure services for projects valued under $50,000.
During the meeting, Michael said the department has experienced "some bumps" in the contract process, including a delay in paying local contractors for work already completed.
She explained that contractors' payments could not be released until the Department of Public Works — responsible for developing the scope of each "short-form contract" project — has submitted information to Education indicating whether or not the projects have been completed.
While Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, chair of the committee, suggested Michael send a letter to the contractors explaining the delay, Michael said the department would be looking at implementing a new payment system. "We should really put in place at least a partial payment halfway through the job, so that the issue of contractors paying out of their pocket would be lessened," she said. "Then they would receive the rest of the money after the final inspection."
She said 27 short-form contracts were awarded this year for summer repair projects. Of that amount, 18 have passed a final inspection by Public Works, while eight are still pending.
There are also a few major capital improvement projects pending– including repairs to the gymnasium at Charlotte Amalie High School and the construction of a track and field at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
After the meeting, Michael said Education has already received open-bid proposals for the CAHS project. However, she could not say whether a contractor has already been selected.
During the meeting, Brent Blyden, the department's facilities and capital projects manager, said it's unclear at this point whether the gym will be expanded or rebuilt. "Discussion on that will take place after an assessment is done," he said. "Our current goal right now is to take care of all safety issues to bring the gym up to standard by the end of the year."
The construction of a track and field for Kean High has been stalled due to a lack of contractors bidding on the project, Michael added. She explained that only one contractor sent in a bid, which set the construction costs at $10 million.
"So we had to go back to the drawing board on this project," Michael said.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Malone and Ronald E. Russell.
Noncommittee members Sens. Lorraine L. Berry and Norman Jn Baptiste were also present.
Sen. Neville James was absent.
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