Montserrat Secondary School Emergency Could Lead to Modern School says Education Minister

Montserratian Minister of Education Colin Riley said he’ll be pursuing the possibility of a creating a 21st Century school now that steps need to be taken to rid the Montserrat Secondary School of materials thought to contain asbestos.

Students were asked to stay home on Monday and Tuesday while officials decided on the best course of action for housing the more than 300 students and teachers of the secondary school in Salem.

Following an independent consultant’s group findings of material which may contain asbestos, the decision was taken to close the school and find alternative accommodations. Technicians from the Project Implementation Unit (PIU), the Environmental Health department have conducted independent investigations, both of which found “lagging” material in the roof and walls which are thought to be made from asbestos products.

PIU head Owen Lewis said the materials were discovered while a consultant team was making structural evaluations on the school campus to ascertain the life of the buildings and recommend a phased approach to upgrading them.

Minister Riley said they had been under the impression that when the school’s roofs were changed in the 1990s that all of the asbestos material had been taken care of. He acknowledged that it was a serious but inherited problem which the government is working on collectively with teachers and other ministry officials to find the best possible outcome for the students and Montserrat.

This emergency, he noted, is providing the impetus to pursue more speedily the creation of a state-of -the-art secondary school for Montserrat. “Salem is the preferred location for the school in the future and we want to work with all of our partners including the Ministry of Finance, DFID, the teachers, students and parents to create a school which we all can be proud of,” Minister Riley said.

The education minister said the vision includes the creation of a campus which can house up to 750 students and provide for all of the modern functions of a learning environment, including the performing arts and sports.

From left to right:  Project Implementation Unit (PIU) Director Owen Lewis, Montserrat's Premier Reuben Meade, Min. of Education and Health Colin Riley, Permanent Secretary of Education Phillip Chambers, and Director of Education Glenn Francis.

From left to right: Project Implementation Unit (PIU) Director Owen Lewis, Montserrat’s Premier Reuben Meade, Min. of Education and Health Colin Riley, Permanent Secretary of Education Phillip Chambers, and Director of Education Glenn Francis.

He noted that this negative circumstance has created the opportunity to advance the plans for building a new secondary school.

The minister acknowledged the support of the planning team which includes Permanent Secretary of Education Phillip Chambers, Director of Education Glenn Francis, PIU Director Owen Lewis, and the principals of all three public schools.

We do not know the exact timeline for MSS to return to Salem. In the initial phase we will operate a complete school from Monday, November 11 at the Brades Primary School campus. As it relates to returning to Salem, after some work is done it will be possible to reoccupy the buildings which were not affected. We will also refurbish the Salem Primary School compound including the 1920 building and the ones built in the 90s. In the second phase, we will have enough space and functional capability to take the school back to that community,” the minister stated confidently. “We do ask people to be patient. The quality of the education will not be any less and we want to keep safety at the forefront.”

Starting this Wednesday, fifth formers are asked to return to classes at the Salem Primary School until Friday. From next week Monday, classes will resume for all secondary school students at the Brades Primary School. Students from Brades Primary will attend classes at the Lookout Primary on a shift basis until November 18 when the buildings now under repairs will be completed and handed over. At that time, both primary schools will operate concurrently.

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  1. Support is needed so that the transition of the primary and secondary schools can be completed in time for opening on Monday, November 11th says Director of Education Glenn Francis.

    Speaking at the Parent Teacher Association meeting for the Montserrat Secondary School last evening in Brades, Francis said all help is welcome to transport the tables, chairs and other school supplies from Salem to the Brades Primary School, where they will operate from.

    A move for the more than 350 students and teachers of the high school became necessary after technicians from the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) found materials which they believe were made with asbestos. No tests have yet been carried out to confirm the findings but officials have erred on the side of caution and on the word from the teachers that they did not wish to work in that environment.

    Science teacher at the MSS Mrs Hyacinth Bramble-Browne said at the PTA meeting that the discovery of the asbestos products was just the latest in a series of problems at the school which the teachers were no longer able to cope with. She thanked the Ministry of Education for finding a solution and said the teachers were committed to making the new school work to ensure the children were educated.

    As of Monday, the secondary school will operate from the Brades Primary School. The 150 plus students at Brades primary will share space with the Lookout Primary School. For one week only, ministry officials said, the primary schools will operate on a shift system with classes from 8am to noon and 1pm to 4pm. From November 18th three additional buildings at the school now being refurbished will be handed over and the schools will then function concurrently at regular school hours of 9am to 3pm.

    Resident wishing to assist with the move can meet at the Brades Primary School at 8am on Thursday morning.


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