Chinese lament waste of money on Sligoville mini-stadium

Stadium built with Chinese money in ruins

BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor Special Assignment

Sunday, May 19, 2013

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NEARLY seven years after the Chinese Government spent $248 million to construct a mini-stadium in Sligoville, St Catherine, as a gift to the Jamaican people, the facility not only remains underutilised but now lies in ruins.

Despite harsh criticisms, then member of parliament for East Central St Catherine and former Foreign Affairs Minister KD Knight, who was instrumental in deciding where the mini-stadium should be built, proceeded with plans to construct the facility on State-owned lands in his constituency.

The massive structure, way up in the hilly terrain of Sligoville, consists of a 600-seat basketball and netball court, with lighting facilities and fences. It also has a 1,200-seat cricket oval, a 1,500-seat football field and a six-lane, 400-metre track circling the football field.

But today, the chain-link fence enclosing the stadium is almost gone, having rotted away over the years. The plastic seats in the stands have crystallised, the majority of them completely destroyed. The bulbs and the casings for the floodlights on the court and the field are all broken. The goal nets are torn up, and the ankle-high grass acts as a deterrent even for those residents who might be inclined to hang out there.

The gates, which were once locked to restrict unauthorised access, no longer serve that purpose as the fencing is also gone. While the facility still has electricity, there is no longer a caretaker to do regular landscaping of the venue.

Even the community centre, which overlooks the stadium and which was built as part of the project, is rarely ever used as residents said only a senior citizens' group meets there occasionally.

"People nuh really care 'bout it no more," said a resident, who was seen walking across the field to get to and from the surrounding Crown lands which he now farms.

Some residents said that while they were never against the stadium being built in the community in the first place, they are extremely disappointed that more effort was not made to ensure that it brought much-needed earnings to the farming community.

A resident, who lives across from the stadium and who opted not to be named, said that when he first heard of the plans to build such a venue, he daydreamed about the benefits that could be derived by the entire community.

In his view, the stadium could have been the perfect income-earner for the community, where unemployment prevails and theft is on the rise.

"Dem tear down dat little board shop 5:30 yesterday morning and all the lady have is six little beer on the shelf and look wey de police deh," he said, pointing to the station, which is located in front of the stadium.

As for the equally underutilised community centre which was locked up when the Jamaica Observer visited last week, the resident said that it was a further waste that money was spent, only three weeks ago, to replace the roof which was damaged during the passage of Hurricane Sandy last year.

"One time people used to rent it fi keep dance and so on in there," he said, adding that the young people would benefit greatly if the centre could be used for skills training.

However, he blamed politics for the demise of the facility as, according to him, the People's National Party left office shortly after building the stadium and the Jamaica Labour Party Administration did nothing to market the facility.

Some residents no longer hold out much hope that the stadium will ever cease to be a white elephant or bring any value to the community.

"That is not just a white elephant, but more like a whole herd," quipped a female resident, who identified herself as Patsy.

Meanwhile, a group of women who were gambling at a nearby shop said that the only time the community benefits from the community centre is during the annual Emancifest — a day-long community sporting competition which gives residents the opportunity to set up stalls and sell various items.

"On that day, people come from all over and rent booth and stalls there and that is the only time we mek a little money round here," said the woman as she kept her eyes fixed on the bingo card in front of her.

The women said that if events were held there on a regular basis, they could earn much-needed income.

"This is the only little money earner," another of the women said in reference to the bingo game.

Resident Jermaine Hunt believes that if regular events were held there, it would put food on the table of many hungry families in more ways than one.

"If them did ah keep events there it would help everybody, from the peanut man down to the soup man, and it would also help to bring some recognition to Sligoville, which is the first free village," he bemoaned.

Hunt noted that even operators of small businesses in the community would have been able to rent permanent spaces at the stadium to sell food to patrons.

Patricia Brown said that the community centre needs to be utilised for skills training as there is nothing for young people to do other than farming or establishing wayside shops in this impoverished community.

However, with larceny on the rise, Brown pointed out that while a lot of the youth have potential, they do not have the resources to realise their dreams.

"It would be even better if them use it as a homework centre rather than lock it up," she said.

The residents said that the plot of land on which the stadium sits was once used as a recreational area.

"Right now, we nuh have no recreational area because before the stadium build we use to go there and play we football and cricket, but now you haffi get permission fi keep someting there," Hunt said, adding that he was not sure to whom the request is usually made.

United States visitor to the community Maurice Duhaney questioned the quality of the material which was used to construct the mini-stadium, as he noted that it should not have eroded in such a short time.

Despite this, he said, the facility had great potential and should not have been allowed to fall into ruins.

When the plans for the multi-purpose sports complex were first announced in 2005, then Spanish Town Mayor Raymoth Notice and a civic group described the venture as "a waste of cash channelled in the wrong direction".

Pointing to the existence of two mini-stadia in Spanish Town, located at the GC Foster College and Spanish Town Prison Oval, Notice said at the time that it would be unwise to develop a similar facility just six miles away.

The funds would be better spent, he had suggested, on developing Sligoville — the first free village in Jamaica — as a site for heritage tourism, putting it in a position to earn foreign exchange.

Rosemarie Green, convener of the Spanish Town Citizens Against Gun Violence, had also suggested that the funds would be better spent on job creation, and building a factory to process locally grown tomato.

Last year, current member of parliament for the constituency Natalie Neita-Headley told the Sunday Observer that there were plans to explore whether or not dormitory facilities could be added to the underutilised facility.

According to Neita-Headley, who is the minister with responsibility for sports, the absence of sleeping facilities is preventing major sporting associations, such as the Jamaica Football Association and the Jamaica Netball Association, from using the venue as a training facility.

"I have a glorious opportunity now to ensure that that beautiful stadium is utilised. If we can put dormitories in that stadium it would be a perfect training facility. I am certainly looking to see through which method it could be done," she said.

The MP also said that the absence of the dormitories has frustrated efforts by the University of Technology (UTech) to use the stadium as a venue for its sports programmes.

But residents said that is no longer likely, as millions will now have to be spent to renovate the facility if dormitories are to be added.

"They would have to replace a lot of things, and so that will be a double spend and me no think the Chinese going to give we no more money after we treat the gift suh," a resident said.

In 2008, the Chinese company which built the facility expressed concern that it was not being used.

"We don't see anybody using it, and so we feel like it has been a waste of money," Ming He of the Shanxi Construction Engineering (Group) Corp told the Sunday Observer.

He said that the centre had been completed since June 2007 and the company has been paying for his team to stay in Jamaica for the one-year warranty on the project.

Also in 2008, Knight told the Sunday Observer that although the complex was underutilised, it was not costing taxpayers any money.

"We will not allow it to be in need of any money from the budget and we don't want any budget money to run it, maintain it, and use it to the fullest capacity," Knight said.



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