Problems at Union Island Secondary caused by poor maintenance – Noel
June 14, 2013

Problems at Union Island Secondary caused by poor maintenance – Noel

The electrical problems at the Union Island Secondary School (UISS) are not the fault of the original contractors, but because of poor maintenance.{{more}}

This is the view of Leslie Noel, the man sub-contracted to do the electrical work at the school, which was constructed at a cost of $13 million and was officially opened on August 21, 2010, about one year after students began taking classes there.

Noel’s position is supported by contractor for the project Mike Gibson, managing director of Gibson Construction.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Noel told SEARCHLIGHT that his character as a professional has been tarnished ever since news broke in October 2012 that it was possible that faulty wiring was responsible for a series of incidents at the school, including the near electrocution of a student in 2012 and the death of a dog in 2011.

“I am concerned about my character, it is very damaging to me,” Noel said.

He explained that he did not take his concern to the media before, because he thought that all the negative attention would blow over with time.

Noel said that he has been doing electrical work for about 20 years and worked on the Union Island airport as well as some other major buildings on the island.

He said that since the stories broke, it has been difficult for him to win bids for new contracts.

The last reported incident is that the school had to be temporarily closed two weeks ago, after steam was observed coming from a concrete manhole on the school grounds, in an area near to the school’s auditorium.

“Again, this had nothing to do with the initial wiring of the building,” Noel said.

The electrician explained that there was evidence that the conduit was cut with some device.

“Something was used to cut it and as a result, phases which feed the outlets at the auditorium, phase or phases were cut and it was not secured,” the electrical sub-contractor said.

The insulation was damaged he said, which resulted in water entering the conduit, which ultimately led to the problem.

In 2011, a dog was electrocuted and in 2012 a student was almost killed after a quantity of electricity went through his body.

Noel contends that neither of these incidents is as a result of any wrongdoing on his part.

He said in the incident with the dog, water leaked into one of the outlets in the auditorium, which caused an electrical explosion, which led to what he said is referred to as an “earth leak”.

An earth leak is caused when a live wire and earth wire make contact with each other.

Any appliance plugged into an outlet with an earth leak would be “live,” and persons coming into contact are at risk of an electric shock he said.

The dog, according to Noel, came into contact with an air conditioning unit on the school compound and because of the earth leak, was electrocuted.

In the other incident in which the student sustained a serious electric shock, Noel said that the students were working on a poultry project and one of the students made an extension cord, using a 13 amp three-pin plug.

But according to Noel, the extension was not done correctly.

Added to that, the extension cable was placed on a wire mesh fence, so when the student came into contact with the fence, he sustained a serious electric shock.

The electrician told SEARCHLIGHT that there was an electrical plan for the project, and during construction, he followed the plan.

Noel said there was a meeting with the officials from the Ministry of Education and that there was a report from the electrical inspector.

“Everything was correct, all the readings were correct,” Noel said.

Following the first incident, Noel said that he was flown to the mainland for a meeting with Ministry of Education officials and representatives from the Buildings, Roads and General Services Authority (BRAGSA). He said during that meeting, it was decided that the building needed to be properly maintained by a team on the ground.

Mike Gibson, managing director of Gibson Construction and contractor for the project, agrees with Noel that the problems at the school are as a result of poor maintenance.

Gibson said during the construction phase, he had indicated to the government that the job was quite a complex one and that the electrical work included some sophisticated equipment, which required the setting up of a maintenance team.

He said that he had suggested that the maintenance team come to the site during the construction phase of the project to facilitate a smooth transition.

“That was never done,” Gibson said.

There were also some issues following the construction of the school, which Gibson asserts were no fault of theirs.

He said a team of workers was sent down to deal with the problems, and in his opinion, they were not properly trained, as was evident with the last incident that took place at the school.

According to Gibson, he had photographs of the sloppy work that was done on the site.

“They cut conduits, even the wire, and with water there will be problems,” he explained.

But he said that he did not think that the officials at the Ministry of Education were blaming his company or Noel, accusing them of shoddy work, because they had never written to them.

“They need to put proper people to maintain the school; once that is done, they will have a proper school; but that has not been done,” Gibson said.

He said that Noel was supervised by his company and that immediately following the work, an electrical engineer inspected the project.

The building was inspected and passed by VINLEC; even the Ministry of Education sought some assistance and they issued a report on the work and indicated that there were no faults with the wiring.

Hudson Nedd, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Works, said that it is the policy of the government that BRAGSA be responsible for the general maintenance of schools and other government buildings throughout the country.

He said that these maintenance checks are usually conducted at the end of the school year; however, schools that are also designated hurricane shelters are subject to periodical checks, particularly at this time of the year during the hurricane season. (DD)