Water at last for Park Mountain Primary

Water at last for Park Mountain Primary

83 years of waiting ends with provision of vital commodity

Editor at Large
South Central Bureau

Sunday, October 11, 2020

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Blessed with a delightful singing voice, principal of Park Mountain Primary School, Carlene Williams-Heath celebrated in style.

“Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this...” she sung to the small gathering of masked, socially distanced guests, as she gave thanks for the arrival of piped National Water Commission (NWC) water to her school.

In fact, Park Mountain Primary School, in the lower reaches of Park Mountain district to the north-western side of the Santa Cruz Mountain range, has waited more than most people's lifetime for piped water – all of 83 years.

This, although the school – built in 1937 – is just a few hundred metres away from the main road where the water main runs; and less than half a mile from the Content well that is a major water source for Santa Cruz and its environs.

Williams-Heath, and other speakers at the function, spoke of “teamwork” over a period of 19 months, which made the project possible.

She had special praise for former Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth North Eastern, Evon Redman, who included the project in his Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and lobbied hard with the various arms of Government.

“Without his [Redman's] help this wouldn't have been possible,” she said.

She hailed school board chairman, Ainsley Clarke, who “did a needs assessment the moment he stepped in as board chairman and begun the process of making water possible for this institution”.

She also applauded the support provided by Donald Gayle of Rural Water Supply and Jermaine Jackson, regional manager representing the National Water Commission (NWC).

Clarke, who served as chairman of the launch function, joked that the project had been conceptualised and implemented by the “company of Redman, Gayle and Jackson”.

Redman described himself as “proud” of the way individuals had come together and worked hand in hand to ensure the project was carried out.

It was especially important at this time when the COVID-19 health crisis requires regular hand washing and good hygiene practices to minimise spread of the virus, he said.

While Jamaican public schools are now operating 'virtually' because of sharp increases in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, it's expected that children will return to 'physical school' sooner rather than later, after the health emergency is brought acceptable levels of control.

“Water is always important but it is important now more than ever with the challenges of COVID-19,” said Redman. “I know the school is going to face a lot of problems but it would have been much worse without running water...thanks to all who ensured this became reality,” he added.

He explained that the Park Mountain Primary School water project was a partnership between CDF and Rural Water Supply, which provided funding, and the NWC which carried out the implementation phase.

The former MP expressed hope that his successor would be able to successfully lobby for extension of the water project to the entire Park Mountain community.

Redman, a businessman who represented the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), walked away from representational politics prior to the September 3 parliamentary election.

The new MP is Delroy Slowley of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), another businessman. Slowley defeated the PNP's Basil Waite to take the St Elizabeth North Eastern seat. The JLP won the national election by a massive majority, taking 49 parliamentary seats to the PNP's 14.

Williams-Heath told the Jamaica Observer following the function that apart from the “certainty” of a regular water supply for 479 students and 28 academic/support staff, the arrival of running water will spare the school great expense.

“Prior to this [when physical school was in session] we had to be buying two/three truckloads of water costing $8,000, $10,000 weekly,” from a private contractor, she said.

Rainwater catchment and storage eased the situation in rainy periods but during droughts it was bad, she said.

It would get worse when allocations from the Ministry of Education ran out, forcing the school to use money from tuck shop sales and fund-raisers.

“Now we are in a far, far better position,” she said, since the school would now be able to use additional funds to help students and to maximise “excellence”.

Gayle told the Sunday Observer that the school project which, he said, cost just over $3 million, was an example of what could be achieved when there was solid political and community “leadership”.

There were many projects similarly “small” in size which could be done but never get done, because there is weak leadership at political and other levels, he said.

Jackson told the Sunday Observer that as the situation now is, the Park Mountain water project could serve about 30 households in the immediate vicinity of the school. The NWC would immediately begin interaction with the community to register those householders who were prepared to pay for water, he said.

Jackson said assessments would continue to see if, and how, the project could be extended to accommodate scores of other households situated upland, in Park Mountain.

A significant percentage of St Elizabeth households, said to be in the region of 30 per cent or more, are still without piped water from the NWC, despite considerable improvement in recent years.

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