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Asbestos removal at UG started late

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July 23, 2008

Asbestos removal at UG started late

The University of Guyana (UG) may not open its doors come September as the contractors working on the removal of asbestos material commenced the task a couple of weeks late, Head of the UG Asbestos Technical Team, Melvin Sankies, said.
Stabroek News contacted Sankies yesterday following reports that there were problems regarding the removal of the material. While Sankies admitted that there were setbacks, he told this newspaper his team was not directly involved in the process.

He said he was unofficially told that the Ministry of Education had placed government engineer Walter Willis in charge of the four contractors involved in the process at UG.

However, when contacted, Willis would neither confirm nor deny his involvement in the process. He said he would “offer no comment on the phone”, but did not indicate whether this reporter could meet him to have a discussion on the matter.

Last month Deputy Registrar of UG, Vincent Alexander, had announced that the $200 million exercise was expected to last two months and it would see asbestos being removed from some 15 buildings at the Turkeyen campus.

The entire campus has been shut down. The administrative staff have been moved to the Dennis Irvine dormitory at Goedverwagting and summer classes are being held at the Tutorial High School. Library services are being facilitated at the university’s location in Pere Street, Kitty.

When contacted yesterday, Alexander could not say whether there were any problems with the process, since it was being overseen by the Ministry of Education. He said he also could not comment on whether classes would resume as per normal in September, but added that they were told that the process would last two months and they are looking forward to that.

Minister of Education Shaik Baksh was said to be out of the country yesterday and Minister in the Ministry Dr Desrey Fox said she could not give an update on the issue as she had only returned to work yesterday after a week’s absence.

According to Sankies, in the initial stages his team had put up a proposal which had suggested that the removal of the material be done over an extended period and this would not have totally disrupted the operation of the university.

However, the Ministry of Education consulted with a consultant and it was suggested that the process be done all at once.

Sankies told Stabroek News that at the last formal meeting his team had with the ministry it was decided that the team would be consulted during the process.

However, since then, he said, he had heard nothing official. Meanwhile, through the unofficial chain of communication he had learnt that Willis would instead be the consultant for the process.
“Nothing official was told to us… there has been no further meeting but we were told Mr Willis has been contracted,” he said.

He said up to late last week the contractors had not touched the library at the university which he said is the most important building at the institution.

“If the library is not finished then it makes no point for students to return to the university,” he said. He also revealed that up to late last week the administrative building had also not been touched.
“The whole thing [the removal process] is not moving as smoothly as it should,” Sankies said, adding that his team was expected to visit the institution some time today or tomorrow.

The asbestos problem was highlighted in the news in the middle of last year following protests from staff members of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Hector Edwards, Head of Business and Management Studies, had told this newspaper that he and staff members were not prepared to continue working in their building as they were exposed to the asbestos.

He had said the issue was pending for a number of years and the administration was doing nothing.
After their protests, Edwards and his staff were moved to another building. The university administration then took samples and sent them to be tested at a Canadian laboratory, Re-source Environmental Asso-ciates (REA), for confirmation during July 14-15, 2007.

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