Asha Stevens Campus officially opens – hailed as the most beautiful school in the Region-

POSTED: 01/25/13 1:14 PM

St. Maarten -With a champagne toast and the ceremonial cutting of a ribbon, politicians and educators officially opened the spanking new Asha Stevens Campus of the Hillside Christian Schools. The event saw the simultaneous delivery of the extension of Jackal Road in Cay Hill. The school, with its vibrant colors and state of the art facilities was described as a “monument”, “the most beautiful school in the Caribbean” and the pioneer of future developments in St. Maarten.

The school has been occupied since last August but its parking lot and access road were still under construction.  During yesterday’s official opening, the general consensus was that now since more than 500 hundred students are housed in a quality facility, all focus should be placed on the delivery of quality education.

The event was attended by various dignitaries including Governor Eugene Holiday, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, Deputy Prime Minister William Marlin, Education Minister Silveria Jacobs and officials from the donor community along with architects, engineers and members of the business community. The school cost 7.8 million guilders to construct and has Clara Curiel has its new principal.

The Journey

The school’s Executive Director Asha Stevens said that the Foundation of Protestant Christian Education had waited a long time for a new campus.

“There was a time when we longed for a larger school. We had a vision and believed in it.”

She said that even after Dutch funding agency USONA built four additional classrooms for Foundation Based Education (FBE) at the Helmich Snijders campus in St. Peters; it was still not enough to house the quantity of children who were on waiting lists.

The foundation acquired the land on which the school sits from the Hazel family. It then began the ambitious plan of drafting designs for the new facility; proposals that were eventually submitted to the Central Government and Windward Island Bank between the years 2002 to 2004.

She recounted stories of the major setbacks the school had before it was finally constructed.

“The contractor got the bid and then went bankrupt. We had to start all over again. Everything was falling apart. The architects had to keep changing the drawing. Then our Minister of Education at that time, Omayra Leeflang, said that there was no money available from USONA. Yes there were changes, obstacles but my long story ends with: the building is here. I never thought it would be this beautiful. ”

Although financing was difficult to acquire, Stevens said that she was constantly supported by head of New Projects Development and Planning, Kurt Ruan, who encouraged her not to lose hope.

“It was widely said that there are funds which are remaining in the pot and Antillean government is not spending the funds which are being made available to them,” Ruan said.

After all of the hardships, Ruan said that he is satisfied with the outcome.

“This is one of the projects that went through an entire phase. The construction of a road was also taken up in the master plan,” Ruan said.

The road was made a reality based on the approval of Raoul Illidge Sports Complex board who agreed to provide land for the construction of the road in exchange for the upgrade of its parking lot.

He was also generous in his appreciation for project manager Rena Richardson.

“It was all about teamwork,” Ruan said.

Pream Architects designed the building and it was constructed by Taliesin Construction Company. The structure was made to resemble an eagle.

A dream come through for FBE

The Deputy Prime Minister was part of the initial discussions for the school more than a decade ago; it was eventually signed off on by the Prime Minister in her capacity as Commissioner of Education in 2008. Former Ministers of VROMI and Education, Theo Heyliger and Dr. Arrindell presided over its start, and Minister Jacobs yesterday, officially opened the new building.

“This definitely is a case where we cannot give any one person the credit. Though governments have changed, the priority for government has been education. It is a dream finally come through for your school board,” the minister said.

She added that people still do not understand the value of FBE.

“FBE really gives the opportunity for us to educate the whole child. The full component of the classrooms and environment is just one aspect. Having the dedicated teachers and parents working together with the teachers is also very important.”

The minister commended all those who worked on the project while calling for more effort to be placed into implementing additional programs in the schools.

“If not enough is done to ensure quality care in education, this will become eventually become the proverbial white elephant,” Marlin echoed.

He said that the school has become the flagship of what educational infrastructure should be and expressed the hope that other schools would follow its example.

“It is a wow; it stands out as a monument. It is not just another building…we cannot speak of overdevelopment in this area but we can speak of future development in this district,” Marlin, who holds responsibility for the Ministry of Vromi said.

He praised Taliesin Construction for an excellent job.

Stevens handed out 15 appreciation plaques to all those who presided over the development of the new school over the years.

“We have to see results, what are these students going to become?” she asked.

Division of Educational Innovations (DERPI) and SBO project manager, Saskia Kliphuis said that all parties have been working together in the interest of quality education in St. Maarten.

“The building of this school and the one in Belvedere that will be delivered in March, they will both ensure that all kids of St. Maarten can go to school which is in line with our law on compulsory education. It will also alleviate the big traffic problem that we have in St. Peters,” Kliphuis said.

She added that in the case of simultaneous developments in Cayhill, it is always good to have many institutes in close proximity to each other.

“We have a hospital here, nice fire brigade, a primary school and we will soon deliver a school for advanced vocational secondary education as well as the Raoul Illidge Sports Development.  A lot of nice things can grow from this…and also be in the benefit of the development of Cay Hill,” she stated, adding that the possibility also existed for the primary school students to share the new kitchen that will be in the neighboring vocational school.

USONA looks at the bigger picture

USONA country representative Angela Dekker said that the construction of the school is part of a bigger plan, which also involves the training of teachers and the development of infrastructure of St. Maarten.

“It started in 2002 when we had a policy plan for innovations in education, that involves training of teachers, school managers, student care coordinators, educational assistants, making the curriculum, early childhood education, parental involvement, an educational management system and a student tracking system. Construction was part of this big plan because the innovations in education you cannot old buildings as they were.”

Almost all schools got extra classrooms or a complete new wing.

The Asha Stevens School fell into the Infrastructure Cycle 2 plan along with M.Genevieve de Weever and Seventh Day Adventist schools.

“We have spent so far Dutch development funds of 20 million in these schools and that includes the part we spent on the school in Belvedere.

Dekker said that like the Asha Stevens School, that has an early childhood education centre, she would like to see all school on the island have such a facility since it stimulates children from young.

Getting a gym at the school was also difficult to approve in Holland. However, the new gym is intended for use by other primary school students and community groups, as well, Dekker said.

“You can have beautiful buildings and well educated teachers but if they are not motivated, it won’t work. Keep the motivation up. Children are priority number one for the St. Maarten government and the Dutch government,” Dekker concluded by saying.

The school board plans to hold another dedication service where it will honor all those who contributed to its construction and also outline plans for its co-curricular activities.

‘It is a Christian school and Jesus reigns. He has the first place in everything that we do,” Stevens declared.

Prayers were said by Pastors Webster and Rawlins and all those in attendance at the dedication ceremony were allowed to have a guided tour of the facility.


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