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Hon. Alden McLaughlin, JP, Minister of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture, reviews plans.

Published 30th April 2007, 12:40pm

The development of Cayman's three new High Schools was foremost on the agenda of the Ministry of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture last week, as key players in the project convened in an event-filled schedule to review the latest plans.

Representatives from the U.S. based architectural and facilities planning firms joined Ministry officials and Cayman architects, OA&D, to engage a whole host of project stakeholders in presentations of plans and discussions about a range of considerations, including technology, sports and communications.

David Smith, Ministry Director of Facilities commented, "What is remarkable about the Ministry's approach to this process is the level and extent of the research and planning, which has taken place to manage risk and ensure that these schools are fully workable and fulfill expectations in every way."

In keeping with the Ministry's modus operandi of continued stakeholder consultation, project plans and drawings were presented to the Cabinet and tabled for discussion with the High School steering committee, PMP sports consultants, educators, technology infrastructure experts and providers of telecommunications and food services. Local contractors were invited to review and discuss plans for the new schools as was the Cultural Advisory Committee, having been appointed to assist with the infusion of Caymanian cultural influences with the design and development of new capital works projects.

Mr. David Martins, Chairman of the six-member Cultural Advisory Committee appointed by the Ministry, commented, "Through regular meetings with the project team, we have been engaged with reflecting the local environment in the design and ambience of the new schools. We are suggesting the use of artwork, textures and cultural icons to reflect Cayman's heritage and ethos, so that students will have a connection with these learning spaces." Mr. Martins added, "As important as it is to reflect Cayman's rich history, the ideal is to also have schools with a contemporary appeal, which will be relevant for years to come. It doesn't have to be 'old-fashioned' to be Caymanian!"

Representatives of Architectural firms, OWP/P and OA&D, and Facilities Planning Firm, Fielding Nair. From L-R: Prakash Nair (Fielding Nair International), Rick Dewar (OWP/P), Jeff Lackney (Fielding Nair International), Kerry Leonard (OWP/P), Trung Le (OWP/P), Danny Owens (OA&D)

Hon. Alden McLaughlin, JP, Minister of Education, Training, Employment, Youth, Sports & Culture, is excited about the direction that the plans are taking. The Honourable Minister remarked, "We have focused much of our energy and attention on making sure that these new schools serve our long-term goals for education in the Cayman Islands and satisfy the needs of their users and communities. It is thrilling to see the fruits of our efforts starting to materialize in the plans."

Plans for the new schools promise some significant enhancements to the traditional buildings familiar throughout the Cayman Islands. Whilst the exterior of each school may be visually unique, perhaps reflecting distinguishing features of the district which it serves, the facility and amenity provisions for each of the three sites, in West Bay, Frank Sound and on the existing John Gray site in George Town, will be comparable.

The plans also reflect the Ministry's vision of school designs which facilitate improvements in the framework for curriculum delivery and international standards of best practice. These improvements would require more flexibility in learning environments to accommodate the varied learning styles of students, and may include project-based learning, individual and collaborative activities and cross-curricular work. Availability of 'soft spaces', 'quiet areas' and removable partitions are design features which help accommodate flexible learning practices, as too are the covered outdoor spaces and wireless connectivity evident on the plans. Students will also benefit from dedicated research centres, media centres and even a café, which will promote social interaction and connections with the community.

With a review of sports policy currently well underway following the Ministry's recent national sports symposium, the schools' sporting facilities are being carefully considered in the wider context of Physical Education in the national curriculum and use of facilities by the wider community. Among other features, students will enjoy access to 25m swimming pools, quality cricket facilities and gymnasiums.

The school plans also provide for energy-saving devices (for example motion sensors which turn off lights after extended periods of inactivity), enhanced safety and security measures and environmentally-friendly features. According to research, the air quality improvement measures which the buildings will adopt are proven to enhance students' academic performance.

Danny Owens of local architectural firm OA&D said, "We are looking closely at sustainable solutions, and thinking carefully not just about introducing efficiencies in how the schools are built, but also in their continuing operations".

The Ministry's Mr. Smith is satisfied that progress on the new schools project is in keeping with the planned schedule. He said, "Plans for the John Gray site have already been submitted to the planning department ahead of schedule, and plans for the other two sites are to follow shortly." He added, "The tendering processes for site preparation and construction are expected to start on schedule in the fall, and we are well on target to have three new fully operational High Schools in use by September 2009."