THE High School Sport Infrastructure Improvement Project (HSSIIP) is the tonic the country needs to properly develop the vast number of young talents coming through the system, according to minister with responsibility for sports, Natalie Neita-Headley.
The minister, speaking during Friday's launch at Vere Technical in Hayes, Clarendon, noted the positive impact that sports -- most notably track and field — has had and insisted that more will be done at the high school level.
"Our school system bears the brunt of our national sport programmes. As such we must fortify the base by improving the facilities that mould our children.
"For good governance it's about doing more and doing better with the little that you have," she said at the school's auditorium.
The historic project is aimed at upgrading the sport facilities in high schools and by extension improving players' abilities in various sporting disciplines. This is also expected to create better competition among schools at either end of the financial spectrum.
A total of $250 million will be spent in upgrading the facilities of 23 schools islandwide in the initial phase.
After assessment and design preparation, work is expected to commence by mid-2014.
Financial support will be provided by the Sports Development Foundation (SDF) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries through the European Union (EU) Sugar Transformation Unit.
Additional support and endorsement will come from the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), Ministry of Education, Social Development Commission (SDC) and Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF).
Neita Headley said schools from the sugar cane belt, predominantly those located in Westmoreland, are being focused on.
The organisers of the HSSIIP are also targeting five of the 10 better performing and five of the 10 lesser performing schools at the ISSA Boys' and Girls' Championships.
Neita Headley reasoned that such a method provides a fairly balanced selection of schools.
"The Office of the Prime Minister has consulted with stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Local Government, Sport Development Foundation, SDC and ISSA to forge the pathway for success by improving sports infrastructure in high schools.
"It was noted that several high schools lack even the basic infrastructure on which to develop physical education and sport," Neita Headley added, before joining in the signing of the memorandum of understanding with the relevant parties.
Before arriving at Vere Technical for the afternoon function, the minister embarked on a bus tour of schools along the south west end of the island.
The tour, which started with a 6:00 am departure from Jamaica House, saw visits made to Grange Hill High in Westmoreland and Lacovia High in St Elizabeth.
Aside from Neita Headley, the travelling party included ISSA president Dr Walton Small, SDF chairman Dr Warren Blake, representatives of the Sugar Transformation Unit and media personnel.
While the late-morning visit to Grange Hill yielded brilliant sunshine, the stops in Lacovia and Clarendon were rain-drenched affairs.
Despite the prevailing weather conditions, the party saw a 44-year-old multipurpose asphalted court at Grange Hill that required repair. Their playing field is inadequate for 11-a-side football, hence, they use the one at the nearby community centre. The surface at the centre is uneven and in need of upgrade work.
The technical personnel also saw where plenty of upgrade is necessary at Lacovia and at Vere.
Blake stressed that maintenance after the upgrade work is completed will be important.
"Sometimes there are challenges with maintaining these projects, but...we are partnering with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) to give some training in terms of maintenance of these fields.
"At Grange Hill they have the community centre and we hope to fix that field. The SDC will work towards the maintenance of those [community-based] venues.
"Some of the schools that we have chosen don't have the space and they don't have space for a football field per se, so they have to use community facilities. So it's really a partnership between the communities and the schools," Blake said.
Mobile firm Digicel provided the bus for the tour, while Burger King supplied refreshments for students, parents and teachers who attended the function at Vere Technical.
Also attending the launch were Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott, Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites, former Vere Technical student and Olympic 400-metre hurdles gold medallist Deon Hemmings-McCatty, Attorney General Patrick Atkinson and May Pen Mayor Scean Barnswell.