May 5, 2001 — At the behest of two eighth graders, Gov. Charles Turnbull vowed Friday to find the resources to renovate a wing of Elena Christian Junior High School more than 18 months after Hurricane Lenny knocked the structure out of commission.
After teaching a social studies class at the school, Turnbull toured the derelict east wing of Elena Christian, shut down after the November 1999 hurricane. A series of temporary fixes failed to repair structural deficiencies in the building, and it has been closed since. The loss of space has forced some teachers to move from available classroom to classroom between periods.
"All our hands-on classes, like drafting, home economics, typing, they cannot do that because of the lack of space," the school principal, Susan Smith, said.
She added that the school’s special education classes are now based in the music department, where sounds from rehearsals often compete with academic teaching.
Turnbull’s tour was prompted by comments made by students at a Senate Youth and Human Services Committee hearing in March. The committee chair, Sen. Vargrave Richards, had taught at the school before entering politics.
"One of my teachers has to share a classroom … because this wing isn’t fixed," eighth-grader Tashima Lambert said.
Some two months after Hurricane Lenny struck St. Croix, Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II and Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds toured the school. James said then that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had documented the need for $137,482 worth of work that included repairing the roof, windows and louvers, and replacing ceiling and floor tiles.
Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen had said then that FEMA hazard mitigation funding was available for Elena Christian, conditional on matching dollars from the local government.
But a year and a half later, the east wing of the school sits unused and deteriorating. Windows are boarded if not broken, and sections of exterior siding are missing, allowing a clear view of the rusting steel frame.
Richards said his office tried to find out why repairs had been stalled. He said money has been appropriated for the work and that all that was needed was for the Property and Procurement Department to execute a contract with a construction company.
"It’s bureaucracy that is stopping this school from being reconstructed," Richards said Friday.
Meanwhile, Turnbull, a career educator, said he hadn’t been aware of the conditions at the school, even though many of the current problems occurred on his watch. He admitted that, somewhere, his Cabinet members had dropped the ball.
He said the problem with completing the work may not be monetary. "In some cases, it’s not the money. It is a matter of getting things done," he said. "I’ve got to go back and find out where things are."
He added, "This situation is one we have to correct as quickly as possible. It’s not something I’m pleased to see. I shouldn’t have to … prod departments and agencies."
The governor declined to set a timetable for the project, but Richards said he would push to get the repairs completed over the summer.
Turnbull’s comments followed his visit to an eighth-grade social studies class in observance of Classroom Teachers Week. For 45 minutes, the governor went over the three branches of government with a semi-enthusiastic class of about 25 students.

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