Earlier this week, we reported on the pending handing over of the Belize City Center to the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The building is the last structure to be surrendered from the control of Belize Infrastructure Limited to the respective ministries under the Government of Belize. Today, we visited another facility, the Marion Jones Sporting Complex, which we found to be in a state of disrepair. As it turns out, what you see on the outside is a lot different from the empty spaces and decrepit sections of the building. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Built at a cost that far exceeds fifty million dollars, the Marion Jones Sporting Complex is on record as arguably the biggest construction hustle in Belize. Under the previous administration, the multipurpose facility was billed as the premiere venue for professional sporting events in the country, despite the inordinate length of time it took for the building to be completed. Named after former world champion track and field athlete Marion Jones, the massive five-storey concrete structure is just a façade. Beyond what is visible on the outside, the building is incomplete and areas that were once finished are now in a state of disrepair.
Oscar Arnold, Director, National Sports Council
“We were shocked when we came here and started to assume the responsibilities because we all were around when we saw the soft launch in, I think it was 2016. And so, in some of the public areas that’s very minimal when you think about the expanse of the building, the Marion Jones seem to be an adequate facility. But when we started to peel back the onion, when we started to walk in the areas that the public won’t ordinarily get to see, we realized this is a totally different story.”
Under former Sports Director Ritchel Dominguez, the Marion Jones Sporting Complex was finally opened to the public in 2016. One year later, the football field stadium was illuminated during a formal ceremony hosted by then Minister of Sports Patrick Faber. Its upkeep has been the biggest challenge ever since.
Marvin Ottley, Deputy Director, National Sports Council
“The field really needs a lot of work to be done. I know that there was an investment done on the field, I think just about a year or two years ago whereby they put in a lot of sprinklers on the pitch. If I am not mistaken, the field has just about fifty-two or fifty-four sprinklers on it. So there’s a good sprinkling system to upkeep the pitch but a lot has went wrong with the pitch itself because the pitch sits on a bed of rocks and that has been from the initial time when it was constructed.”
That’s just one of the many faults that can be found in and around the compound. On the fifth floor which houses the media and VIP boxes, the rooms are incomplete and were never used. There is no lighting, no proper seating, no air conditioning and buckets that were used in construction over five years ago remain where they were left.
“For the price tag that this building was billed for and what we’re seeing, do you believe that there is value for money here?”
“I, personal opinion and this is an athlete for over twenty-eight years, I don’t believe so. We all chronicled the story of the Marion Jones from when it began to when it finished and I think there were different contractors, there were different phases to the project and it seems that over the years a lot has fallen through the cracks. We just need to tell our story so that people understand what our job is and what we’re up against.”
Since taking over the leadership of the National Sports Council in late November of last year, Oscar Arnold and his team have been doing similar evaluations at all sporting facilities owned and managed by the N.S.C. across the country. What they have found is years of patent neglect.
“All our facilities countrywide, including Marion Jones, were in a terrible mess. Moreover, you couldn’t even walk from here over to the other pitch or to the running track because the grass was so high. So we really put some measures in place and got some of the few equipment we do have up and running so that we could have so that we could have started to maintain the field as much as possible. This, what you are seeing right now is far better than what we have seen when we came here. We came here just about the twentieth of November and it was in a really, really terrible mess.”
…such a chaotic state that repairing the Marion Jones will require a lot more from the already cash-strapped public purse.
“What I find sort of difficult to reconcile with mentally is the fact that so much money was spent on the building of the fence and when you look at the structure itself, it seems rather incomplete. Is it now a matter for taxpayers’ money to be used once again to see how this can be repaired?”
“At the end of the day, it will be taxpayers money. We will be looking at how we can maybe source some grant funding, but taxpayers money already went into this project and like you rightly said, there’s hundreds and hundreds of thousand dollars on the football pitch and it’s still not FIFA certified. The lighting around treh Marion Jones as well, but for this main building itself, at least in the initial stages, some taxpayers money will have to be spent.”