By Theresa Goodwin
Former Prime Minister Dr Baldwin Spencer, under whose leadership the proposed Five Islands secondary school was built to address overcrowding in neighbouring schools, gave the biggest endorsement yet to a proposal presented by education officials Thursday night.
The proposal to relocate the Five Islands Primary School to facilitate the expansion of the UWI Five Islands Campus was presented to members of the community during a town hall meeting.
Spencer, former MP for St John’s Rural West, along with members of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and supporters, had vehemently objected to the establishment of the UWI campus in the area, indicating that the facility had been purpose built for a secondary school and not a university.
However, by the end of the presentations, the former prime minister said, while he was apprehensive he was pleased by what was presented, particularly with the fact that the overall concept will include the integration of a preschool, primary and secondary school.
“The questions that I wanted to ask had to do with preschool, the primary and the secondary school. These have been answered and I am now satisfied that the plan took into consideration what ought to be done with respect to the other levels of education, because there is where it starts.
“In order to go through university, you have to go through these processes and to have these other institutions as an integral part and adjacent to, to me is an excellent idea,” Spencer said.
He stressed that as part of the overall plan the three institutions should be seen as a priority before the wider aspect of the university is handled.
The government intends to expand the UWI campus by utilising 50 acres of nearby land. The process will also involve the relocation of the Five Islands Primary School.
During his presentation, the Project Manager and Head of Facility Management at UWI Five Islands, Lucan Robinson, explained that the expansion will include lands in close proximity to the entrance of Five Islands Village, close to the roundabout leading into the small village.
“It’s a fully built out campus that creates a new entry point to Five Islands Village and there is a new gateway that is called the University of the West Indies Five Islands Campus.
“It is going to be a very, very pleasant experience because it’s going to be very new and modern structures that are going to contribute to a new feel and a new experience in Five Islands,” Robinson said.
The university campus will include sporting facilities to host international events, student and faculty centres, a library, and a host of other amenities which, according to the project manager, will make it economically viable.
Minister of Education Daryll Matthew said the expansion plans and the relocation of the primary school presented the perfect opportunity for the government to go back to the drawing board and rethink its approach as it relates to educational development.
“If we are building out a set of institutions from scratch, we can now incorporate early childhood and primary education, and depending on what our demographic data suggests, a secondary school. So, in the Five Islands community, there is the opportunity to have the full spectrum of education,” he explained.
His stance was supported by Director of Education Clare Browne who stated that “we are going to build for purpose, build not just to accommodate the people we have now, but those who are yet to come”.
Meanwhile, members of the community raised concerns about access to specific facilities once it is completed and whether villagers will be given priority in all areas, including employment on the expansion plan and scholarships to study at the university.
Some of the points were also supported by Democratic National Alliance (DNA) political hopeful Malaka Parker, who stressed that a special place should be carved out for members of the community to excel.
Attendees at Thursday night’s session also inquired about the students attending Five Islands Primary and what would be done in the interim ahead of the relocation exercise.
They were assured by the educational officials present that the relocation exercise will not commence until a possible site is identified and the construction of the new structure is complete.
No timeframe was given, but a commitment was made that other sessions will be held with the community to provide an update on that phase of the project and other areas going forward.
Despite the proposed expansion, the UWI Five Islands will still be the smallest of the four landed campuses. The others are Cave Hill, Mona, and St Augustine which are located in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad, respectively.