Saturday, June 15, 2024

Another delay in the ground-breaking for new schools on Ambergris Caye


Another school year has begun, and the ground-breaking ceremony for the schools planned for north of San Pedro Town has once again been delayed. It is now tentatively set to take place after the September celebrations. The ground-breaking had previously been scheduled for August, but that never happened. Area Representative for Belize Rural South and Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr. said that the schools will be built, but that they need to finish preparing the site so construction can take place. He is anticipating for the construction of the schools to start sometime in October of this year.
Word of the construction of new schools (including a new pre-school, primary and high school) was first announced in May 2017. In a statement issued by the Minister of Education Honourable Patrick Faber, it was indicated that 35 new schools would be built countrywide. The funds for the schools were confirmed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow during a visit to San Pedro in 2018, and he emphasized that it was not an empty promise.
It has been over a year since that statement, and the project continues to see delay after delay. Heredia explained that the delay this time is because works are yet to be finished on the site and because the project in San Pedro is linked to a similar one in Caye Caulker. According to him, a pre-school and a high school will be built on la Isla Cariñosa and the arrangements to have that site ready for a ground-breaking as well is what has affected the process in San Pedro. Heredia added that the schools for Caye Caulker and San Pedro Town are a part of a package; thus, both projects need to be worked on and executed around the same time.
Some San Pedro Town residents are skeptical about the project; a few told The San Pedro Sun that they will wait to see if such a promise will ever materialize. Standard Bearer for People’s United Party for Belize Rural South, Andre Perez, weighed in on the topic. He said that this is another of Heredia’s empty promises which he normally uses when he feels pressure from the community. “It reminds us when the community was clamoring earlier this year about no hospital after some tragic incidents,” said Perez. “Again, he went on to talk about ground-breaking or land identified for a hospital. In fact, he went on to talk with delusional ideas about the possibilities of taking over an abandoned hotel up north and converting it into a hospital.” Perez believes that Heredia’s school talks is because classes have resumed and is beginning to feel the pressure of the lack of space in the schools across the island.
With an ever-growing population in San Pedro Town, the demand for classroom space continues at island schools. Some primary schools are doing their best to cope with spacing and those parents that can afford it have their children attend school off the island. In speaking with someone from the only high school on the island, they stated that space-wise, their situation is still manageable. However, the student population continues to grow, and up to today, there are over 600 students. If the number of students continues to grow steadily, they believe that there will come a time when no more students can be accepted, unless more space is made available. The high school currently offers an evening program through which students can finish their secondary studies at night while having a full-time day job. According to the school, if it was not for this option, the school’s population would be greater, and perhaps limit the number of students that could attend per year.
The area where the schools are to be built is allegedly seven miles north of downtown San Pedro, and according to the Ministry of Education, transportation will be provided for students and teachers. The funding secured for the three schools north of the island are thanks to a Caribbean Development Bank loan to the tune of $70 million. These monies will cover the building of all 35 new schools across the country.

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