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Schools could be rebuilt ‘from ground up’

The Ministry of Education is exploring the possibility of rebuilding Bermuda’s entire school infrastructure “from the ground up”, this newspaper has learnt.

Outgoing education minister Wayne Scott thinks new purpose-built facilities could be built from scratch for approximately the same price as the Dame Lois Browne-Evans Building, housing the courts and police, which cost just over $90 million.

Mr Scott said he had received the “first, high-level draft of figures back” which could cover the building of three elementary schools and a middle school in each of the three geographical zones - central, eastern and western - identified in the Score [School Reorganisation] report.

The Score report, commissioned under Mr Scott’s watch, exposed the crumbling infrastructure across Bermuda’s 18 primary schools including mould issues, infestations and broken facilities. Mr Scott said smaller investigations into the island’s remaining 20 schools turned out similar results.

Options were being explored to renovate the existing facilities but this latest development could lead to fewer schools on the island but with buildings designed for 21st-century learning. The old structures could be adapted for other use, Mr Scott said.

Mr Scott, who stepped down as education minister last week but said he would remain involved in the ministry as a backbencher, told The Royal Gazette: “We have got old facilities and it is difficult sometimes with modern teaching environments in such awkward facilities. I want to really start to have the conversations within the community with regards to a plan that we have started to look at that could see the whole school infrastructure be rebuilt.

“There are two things - we have got to continue maintaining the schools but that is just a temporary measure. At some point, we are going to need to look at rebuilding our entire infrastructure. We probably couldn’t do that with the number of schools we have. If we cut down on the number of schools, the net result is you have all new facilities and I think that is something that the public could buy into.”

The entire education budget for 2017 is $127m Minister of Finance Bob Richards revealed in last Friday’s budget.

Asked whether the money could be found for such an ambitious project, Mr Scott replied: “If you are being fiscally responsible, these are things that have to realistically be done. I have initial figures back that is approximately the same cost of the new police and court building and you can have an entire new school infrastructure.

“It would be a very good investment for the future of Bermuda. I am talking about building from the ground up. If you look at the number of schools we have and the cost of going through and renovating those facilities, in some cases it is cheaper to actually build from scratch and purpose build.

“Using buildings that are designed for 21st-century learning in line with what current education techniques are. Our infrastructure was built 50 or 60 years ago.

“At a minimum - in each zone if we had three brand-new elementary schools and a brand- new middle school, that is something that could probably work in Bermuda.

“I have been working on it in the background and it is my intention to continue to talk more in the community about it.”

Outgoing education minister Wayne Scott (Photograph by Akil Simmons)