Montserrat: Development Proposals for Primary and Secondary Schools
Montserrat: Development Proposals for Primary and Secondary Schools
In November 2008 I was asked to visit Montserrat to assess the situation at the country’s three existing schools, Lookout and Brades Primary Schools and Montserrat Secondary School and to develop proposals for the redevelopment and expansion of the primary schools and a preliminary design and costing for a new secondary school.
Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean situated in the Leeward Islands, which is part of the Lesser Antilles chain of islands. The island measures approximately 16 km in length and 11 km in width, with approximately 40 km of coastline and is nicknamed "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" both for its resemblance to coastal Ireland and for the Irish ancestry of many of its inhabitants.
Until the early 1990s, Montserrat was largely self-sufficient but the volcanic crisis of 1995-1997 destroyed much of the social and economic fabric of the island, devastated nearly all its key infrastructure and caused a substantial population exodus. On 18 July 1995, the previously dormant Soufrière Hills volcano, in the southern part of the island, became active and eruptions destroyed the capital city of Plymouth and much of the southern half of the island. There were further eruptions in 2010 and although it has been relatively quiet since then the volcano continues to be closely monitored by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.
An exclusion zone, encompassing most of the southern half of the island was imposed after the 1995 eruptions because of the potential for further eruptions. Many people left the island after the first eruption and those who stayed (or have since returned) are now living outside the exclusion zone in the northern half of the island.
Background to the Proposals
Montserrat’s education system is broadly based on the English system. Both universal primary and secondary education had been achieved at the time of the mission and provision had been made for every child from the age of three to attend nursery school.
Lookout Primary School was purpose-built in response to the evacuation after the 1995 eruption and at the time of the mission was over-subscribed and required extension and Brades Primary School was in urgent need of renovation and development. Montserrat Secondary School, sited in the ash shadow of the volcano and close to the exclusion zone, was prone to impromptu closure because of ash falls.
The two primary schools were at the time single-stream entry schools and neither had sufficient space on their sites to be developed as two-stream schools. The secondary school was one of two junior secondary schools that before 1995 served a senior secondary school and it was converted into the island’s only secondary school after the volcanic eruption.
The government’s intentions were to renovate and extend as necessary the two primary schools and to relocate the secondary school to a new site in the north of the island away from the shadow of the volcano and were looking for proposals that would assist in the achievement of these aims.
Proposals for the development of Lookout and Brades Primary Schools and for new facilities on a new site for Montserrat Secondary School
Lookout Primary School
Lookout Primary School was at that time a single-stream primary school with 174 pupils in kindergarten and grades 1 to 6. The school was constructed in 1997 as a secondary school and was converted into a primary school in 2001. The site was fairly large, with falls from south to north and had been terraced to form several flat areas on which sat the entrance and parking area, the school buildings and the school playing field.
The existing school facilities consisted of three buildings on two different levels connected by covered links with a small paved yard between them. Building 1 was at a higher level than the other two and was oriented to face north/south. The other two buildings were at a lower level and were oriented to face east/west. Access between all three buildings was via steps and there was no provision for disabled access.
In order to develop this school to accommodate and teach the maximum number of pupils, additional facilities would have been required and the existing facilities would have had to be renovated and modified and proposals were made to develop the school in two phases.
Brades Primary School
Brades Primary School was a single-stream primary school with 151 pupils in kindergarten and grades 1 to 6. The original school buildings were constructed in 1966 by the Methodist Church and the school had later additions constructed by the government.
The school was situated next to a minor road on a fairly large sloping site that had been terraced in parts to accommodate the buildings. The site fell from south to north and there were some large changes in level.
The existing school facilities consisted of four permanent buildings on different levels some of which were connected by narrow covered ways. There were also three semi-permanent timber-framed buildings that were used by the school and other agencies and it was proposed to eventually replace and remove these. Access to the buildings at the higher level was difficult and there was no disabled access to the toilets.
In order to develop the school to accommodate and teach the maximum number of pupils, additional facilities would have been required and the existing facilities would have had to be renovated and modified.
It was proposed that some of the additional facilities that were required would be provided in the first two phases of the development of the school and that the modifications of the existing buildings and further new facilities would happen in Phase 3. Phases 1 and 2 were split because of budget considerations although it would have been more economic if they had been implemented at the same time.
Montserrat Secondary School
The existing Montserrat Secondary School campus was located towards the centre and on the western side of the island at Salem not far from the northern boundary of the exclusion zone.
The site was vulnerable to ash falls and had to be abandoned when those were very heavy; the site was steep with very little space for recreation or expansion and the existing facilities were limited in scope. It was also noted that while the site was convenient for the families living in the Salem area, it was a long way from the new population centres that were developing in the north of the island.
It seemed imperative therefore that a more suitable permanent site was found for the school in the north of the island away from the exclusion zone. Two possible sites had been identified at the time of the mission but one was too small and the other seemed to have ownership problems. It seemed necessary therefore that a new site would have to be found with adequate space for the existing school population and sufficient space for future expansion.
It was not possible to arrive at a definitive design for the new school without an actual site and therefore the proposals in the report set out possible design strategies that could have been adopted when designing the new school facilities.
Preliminary designs were also given for the facilities that it was considered would be required in the new school and a notional site layout was also prepared that illustrated how these facilities could be arranged on a site.
For reasons that are not entirely clear but are probably down to funding issues, the proposals for the development of the schools do not appear to have been followed up and the secondary school for instance still remains in its vulnerable location.