Scepticism at R130m school upgrade news

Staff, department have contradictory take on previous revamp plans

The boys’ hostel at Gamble Street High School was condemned in 2006 – 12 years later the school is still waiting for repairs
The boys’ hostel at Gamble Street High School was condemned in 2006 – 12 years later the school is still waiting for repairs
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Gamble Street High School in Uitenhage is set to receive a R130m upgrade.

However, staff are sceptical, saying a similar promise was made by the department of education in 2011.

In March, department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said R130m had been budgeted for upgrading the school.

The figure was confirmed on Friday by another department spokesman, Malibongwe Mtima, who said the project was in the process of going to tender.

However, staff were shocked by the news at the weekend – as they have yet to see the initial R6m renovations discussed in 2011, and say no communication has been sent from the department about the new upgrade.

According to teacher and school building committee chair William Human, the initial plan – to renovate the condemned boys’ and girls’ hostels and construct a new school wing with 24 classrooms – had fallen by the wayside.

The outside of the boys' hostel
The outside of the boys' hostel
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Pulumani previously said the department had never allocated R6m – despite Human showing The Herald building plans and minutes of meetings held in this regard.

On Friday, Mtima said all the necessary paperwork for the R130m upgrade had been completed by the Independent Development Trust, and tendering and committee selection were scheduled to follow.

However, Human said he was unsure whether he should be excited about the upgrades, given “the department [taking] us for a ride before”.

“What you are telling me is totally contradictory to the latest information I received from the district office,” he said.

“We were told the school had been removed from the list of schools due for upgrades.”

Human said preparation for the initial R6m project had been under way, with new fencing and the removal of trees, but then everything had gone quiet.

But the department is adamant that no funds were released at that stage.

“Now, it’s just a matter of tendering, selecting a committee and following other procedures to ensure all the necessary upgrades take place,” Mtima said. “At this stage the timelines for the project are unclear as the necessary procedures vary in length.

“It could be late this year or early next year.”

A member of the school’s leadership, who asked not to be named, said the facility was struggling to cope with the ever-increasing enrolment at the school, which already catered for 1,320 pupils.

“We will have to wait and see. We have been waiting for years while we watch other schools being redone, despite us being top of the upgrades list some years ago.

“At the moment, we are forced to use prefab classrooms and one or two vacant rooms in the safer part of the condemned hostel just to accommodate [the] pupils we have.”

Former principal Lionel Barnes said he had postponed his retirement by two years on account of the initially proposed upgrades.

“I ended in 2013, two years after I intended to retire, because the department pleaded with me to stay on and oversee the project and receive the keys for the new building,” Barnes said on Sunday.

“However, after the second year of waiting I could see nothing was going to happen and opted to retire. And to this day nothing has transpired.”