IRWIN, St James – Intent on protecting her students' health, the principal of Mavis Allen Basic School in St James makes sure they do not spend more than 15 minutes outside each day. That's half the time her young charges used to have to get fresh air and run around outdoors; but that was before the construction began all around them.
The basic school, located on the Fairfield Road in Irwin, St James, is sandwiched by two major construction sites and a stone's throw away from ongoing expansion of houses in another development.
"It's mostly the dust, the dust is terrible. When it's dry then you know that you have severe impact," the school's Principal Shari Williams-Harvey told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.
"Dust is everywhere and you can't lock them on the inside. So we will go for about 15 minutes, which should be 30, but we'll go for a few minutes then get back inside," she said.
Down the road from the rear of the school, construction is on in earnest on the swanky Fairmont Estates with minimum price tags of US$150,000 for a two-bedroom detached condo. The completion date is uncertain. Up the road, work has picked up speed on Union Acres, a 144-house gated development for civil servants. That project was supposed to be completed this March but the deadline was missed. Then there is the nearby Cashew Grove development where many of the $10-million, one-bedroom houses are being transformed into palatial structures.
Both Fairfield Road and Pegga Road provide access to the area. Frequent use by trucks lugging material has reduced both roads to potholed-filled dust bowls in dry weather that become quagmires of sticky wet marl whenever it rains.
There has been an impact on attendance at the basic school which has 48 students on roll from the area, as well as communities as far away as John's Hall and Mount Salem.
"One or two children are affected severely, probably by allergies, those kids will stay home. But if we notice they may have some allergic reaction like red eyes, we will try to keep the kids on the inside," Williams-Harvey explained.
Students range from age two to six years old and, according to the principal, parents "are concerned".
Williams-Harvey was quick to note that developers working in the area have banked some goodwill because of their attempts to keep the road damp to minimise the dust. She and her team have also played a role.
"If the trucks are not available to do the wetting, then the teachers and myself, we do our own wetting with our little hose on the outside. We have to help ourselves, especially for the kids," she told Observer West.
The administrator took on the lead role at the basic school in May 2022 when it fully reopened after being scaled down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then the school has grown, and Williams-Harvey is hopeful that when the nearby developments are completed, parents who move into the area will look to the school as an option for their youngsters.
"With expansion, it's natural you will have more kids comingâ€¦They may choose the closer school, which is ours...It's sort of natural that you may have more students coming in," she said, adding that there is already a healthy list of students to be registered for the next school year.
She is looking forward to all the work being completed and the roads being fit for use.
"I am hoping that after the development, the roads will be fixed. We are sort of bearing it out with them and I hope they understand that we understand. So at the end of it, it's fixed and it's ready and it's nice and it provides easy access to our school campus," she said.
In the meantime, she has one request of the developers.
"Because we are in this area where you have so many developments going on, I would like to see the contractors, or persons in charge of the development around here, take a walk over here," she said.
"They do their part when it comes on to the dust and so, they give us that support and I am really grateful for that. But I would love for them to take a step over here and engage us to see if there is any more help that we need," she added.
She insists that the school board and teachers would welcome the opportunity.
"We have suggestions too and I know if we work together with them, Mavis Allen will continue to be a star," she told Observer West.