– incident “beyond devastating” – Min Manickchand
– over 500 students displaced
By Jemima Holmes
In hindsight, last Wednesday’s fire at Christ Church Secondary School at the intersection of Camp and Middle Streets, Georgetown can be considered a grave warning.
Then again, the small but controlled fire last week could not prepare for the ravenous inferno that ripped through the same school in a matter of minutes, late Thursday afternoon.
Billowing orange flames erupted from the middle section of the Grade ‘A’ Secondary School just after 17:00h on Thursday and the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) was alerted thereafter.
On the scene, scores of citizens gathered, inclusive of teachers and students, but were forced to stay some distance due to the intense heat that emanated from the blaze.
The Guyana Fire Service’s best efforts could not contain the hungry blaze that soon swept westwards to the buildings at the back of the Secondary institution. Springing into action, the firefighters first on the scene opted to utilize the resources of the nearby Colgrain pool and with pumps, directed heaps of water at the 71-year-old secondary school.
However, the wooden top half of the school stood no chance against the ferocity of the raging fire while the other sections, made of concrete, appeared quite flimsy, failing to stand the test of the heat.
Within the span of 45 minutes, one could see through the remains structure, made only of beams and crumbled concrete and walls.
In the infamous Camp Street Avenue, a visibly distraught Minister of Education Priya Manickchand stood in the company of teachers and Ministry Staff, contemplating the new burden that the Ministry would now face.
Of course, Manickchand avoided a tragedy last Wednesday, when a confirmed chemical fire broke out in the school’s laboratory on the ground floor.
Although the origin is still unconfirmed, the school was not spared this time around, placing the Minister in a regrettably familiar position, having had three secondary schools being destroyed by fire since 2021.
In response to the devastating situation, Manickchand said, “It is beyond devastating, it’s indescribable, it’s a huge loss to us this is a List-A school…any school that we lose is a huge loss to us. This is the third school in Georgetown that went up in flames, and we’re struggling with space… to accommodate the other two schools so you can imagine the position this will put us in.”
“It’s going to cause problems for the children, the 502 children who needed to come to school tomorrow and get educated. And it’s going to be problems for them not only tomorrow, and while the school is down but long-term, because for every day we fail to educate in a qualitative way, you have long term consequences,” the Education Minister further related to the Guyana Times.
After the smoke-blackened skies cleared, night fell, and the flames were reduced to a quiet slumber, the ruins of Christ Church Secondary painted a distressing picture, especially for the Education Ministry.
With the displacement taking place, the numbers to consider were 502 children, 39 teachers, and nine auxiliary staff.
“I’m coming up with a plan of action. Today, the Minister will meet with teachers in order to formulate a plan of what is to be done to ensure the students of Christ Church do not miss out on their schooling.
“We’re looking for accommodations… we have a couple of possible sites. We’re going to meet with the teachers tomorrow at ten O’clock to plot a way forward.”
Weighing even more heavily on the Minister is the fact that students preparing for the Caribbean Secondary Examinations Council (CSEC) exams have been disenfranchised by the destruction of their School Based Assessments (SBAs).
Manickchand lamented, “And it’s an expensive enterprise, but it’s not just the expense it’s the inconvenience. Schools take time to build, kids writing CXC this year have their SBAs in this building now, their lab books in this building now.”
“They’re writing in a couple of months so we have a whole set of things to…figure out. We know that the building was properly wired because last week…to get a connection back from GPL we had to have an inspection and approval from GPL… that says it’s properly wired. So, I’m waiting to see what is the reason for this fire,” the minister added.
Expect a thorough investigation
Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn, under whose premise the Guyana Fire service falls, indicated that he was in Port Kaituma when he learned of the fire.
Benn, pointed out the obvious elephant in the room; the coincidence needed for two fires to break out at the same building, one week apart.
“In general, I want to say and I want to call on all the communities and parents and teachers in the country, to stand in support of the Education system and to watch out and to look out for their assets, in terms of Educational infrastructure.”
“It would appear passing strange and it would test the probability that within two or three weeks we can have a fire at the same building at a prominent building in Georgetown, where hundreds of children are working on their SBAs and other things. We cannot afford the loss of these assets.”
Benn clarified, “I’m not speculating. I’m merely saying that it’s passing strange and it’s a tremendous blow.”
Indicating that one can expect a full investigation into the Christ Church fire, the Minister added, “There is information which the police are working on as we speak. And I’ll say no more on that.”
On June 19, 2021, the North Ruimveldt Secondary School located on Mandela Avenue, Georgetown saw a large portion of its building being gutted by fire.
A few months later, on September 24, 2021, the North West Secondary in Region 1 (Barima- Waini) was destroyed by an act of arson.
Back in Georgetown, it was only last year, on July 21, that St. George’s Secondary School was gutted by yet another fire.