The Vice Chancellery Project

The Nerve Centre of Our Regional Enterprise

by Joel Henry

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If all goes as planned, by the time this publication has been completed The University of the West Indies should have its new Vice Chancellery Building, officially dubbed The University of the West Indies – Regional Headquarters. Representing nearly two decades of planning, the hard work of The UWI project team and its contractors, the financial support of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the vision of the university’s leadership, the building will be the central governance point for the entire university. It will serve as the home of some of its key research institutes and archives, and as a symbol of the prominence and importance of UWI as the region’s premier centre of knowledge and learning. Most fittingly, the completion of the Vice Chancellery Building Project coincides with UWI’s 50th anniversary as a degree granting institution in its own right.

Based in Jamaica, just opposite UWI’s Mona Campus, the new Regional Headquarters is an impressive two storey, 70,000 square foot structure bordered by campus housing and neighbouring communities. Its location just outside of the Mona Campus was very deliberate. The planners’ intent was for the building to represent all of the campuses and therefore there was thoughtful and careful selection of a site off the grounds of any of the three physical campuses.

“The Regional Headquarters building housing the offices of the Vice Chancellery is a separate place. It is truly regional,” explains the Vice Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris. “It’s a place that belongs to all of the campuses. This is a place where anybody who belongs to the university will feel at home.”

And it is a home that has been long in the making.

Although the actual work for the project began in January 2011 (with a projected completion date of

March 2012, personnel relocation date of April and official launch in June), the need for a centralised seat of governance has been recognised for decades. A 1984 UWI Chancellor’s Governance Review noted the inadequacy of existing facilities for central administration.

Professor Harris says, “up to about 1989 the Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Mona Campus were one and the same person. Administration of the university took place within the existing administrative structures.”

It was under the tenure of then Vice Chancellor Sir Alister McIntyre that the positions were separated (Professor Gerald Lalor becoming Mona principal), a crucial step towards eventually meeting the university’s need for a dedicated, region-wide administrative body that could better focus on areas like policy, planning, government relationships, funding and international linkages.

Although the Vice Chancellery existed, because it had no offices of its own, its many functions were split between different locations, leading to inefficiency. In addition, without a headquarters the Vice Chancellery had no place to host international events or guests.

“We were a Vice Chancellery in name but scattered,” Professor Harris says. “…we are representing the university, if dignitaries come to visit, it is important to a have an appropriate facility in which to host them.”

The new Regional Headquarters is certainly that. With a cost of US$12 million (US$8.25 million provided through a CDB loan) the building is a magnificent space that includes administrative offices, parking, facilities for several research institutes, a museum, the Council Room, and multi-purpose seminar rooms and two spacious meeting rooms that are available for rent. The building was designed by architects Bob Fowler and Associates. Kier Construction Company Ltd is the main construction firm. The administrative headquarters is located on 4.8 acres of land immediately opposite the Queen’s Way entrance to the Mona Campus on the southern side of Hermitage Road.

A project, not a building

As mentioned, the UWI’s Regional Headquarters building was funded primarily through a CDB loan.

The loan is guaranteed by the governments of Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and includes generous repayment terms and fairly low interest rates. Apart from the loan, the CDB also gave UWI a grant of US$500,000. Representatives of the Vice Chancellery are quick to point out that the loan is for the total project – not a building.

“The CDB funds projects, not buildings,” says Allison Fung, Executive Assistant to the Vice Chancellor.

“They want to ensure that UWI has the capacity to develop and implement its regional objectives for the people of the Caribbean.”

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