Aug. 17, 2002 – Eleven days from the Aug. 27 start of the new school year, Education Department officials took the news media on a tour Friday of St. Croix schools where workers are putting the finishing touches on summer repair and maintenance projects.
There were stops at both high schools, both junior high schools and five elementary schools. Leading the way were acting Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, St. Croix Superintendent Terrence T. Joseph and two Board of Education members, Claudette Peterson and Terrence D. Joseph.
Michael said all of the work was completed utilizing $4 million made available to her department in July, except for repairs at the high schools and to the "E" wing at Elena Christian Junior High School.
In July, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said the $4 million was being made available for summer repairs to the schools. The money came from the Port Authority, which had planned to use it for the Enighed Pond commercial port project on St. John. But when the authority received $16 million in GARVEE bonds for the project, its board voted to give the $4 million to the V.I. government for the schools. The action was taken before VIPA officials said on July 29 that the authority could end up $5 million in the red for Fiscal Year 2002 because of reduced airline traffic in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the mainland.
Michaels said all the maintenance projects were completed from the $4 million except repairs at two high schools and the "E" wing at Elena Christian Jr. H.S. Some repairs were due to safety issues and violations cited by the Fire Services. Michaels said on Friday those were the primary focus during this summer maintenance program.
Last week, officials made a preliminary tour of facilities on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, and Peterson, co-chair of school board's School Plant and Facilities Committee, said on Friday that she was amazed at the progress since four days earlier. Citing the Elena Christian "E" wing, she said, "I'm impressed. This place was a mess last week."
Elena Christian teachers, staff and parents had complained for years about the condition of the wing, which suffered extensive structural damage as a result of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. The east end of the school grounds was barricaded, and safety inspectors cited the school as a health hazard in 1999.
The year-long rehabilitation project cost about $1 million, Superintendent Joseph said, and the wing should be ready for occupancy in the fall. "We have every confidence it will be done. Over the Christmas holiday, they repaired the library," he said, referring to Brothers Construction, the contractor. "The roof here was a great problem. I told Brothers to put them to work at night if need be."
Most schools got touch-up painting inside and out and repairs to restroom plumbing. Joseph said the Elena Christian grass was cut a couple of weeks ago by students in the Anti-Litter and Beautification summer work program, who also planted some 40 colorful crotons at the school entrance. He said the grass would get another trim just before the doors open.
Other contractors involved in the summer work are Dubois Welding, Apple Construction, Mike's Construction and Caribbean Cooling.
The two-story wing houses 15 classrooms including all those with science laboratories. Joseph added that $70,000 worth of new furniture has been ordered and other pieces will be cleaned and ready for the new school year.
Referring to the need to repair or replace restroom fixtures, Joseph said these are "things we should not have to fix each year, but children break things." He added, "We hope for them to protect and respect our properties throughout our school system."
Friday's tour began at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School, on the East End, where there's a new paved parking area for teachers with 40 spaces, including three for the handicapped, in place of the old dirt lot. Principal Janice Esannason said her greatest concern had been for the safety of students hopping on and off school buses in the old parking area.
Replacement of the plumbing system and six air-conditioning units and electrical rewiring were done at the 30-year-old school where 568 students were registered last year.
"We take pride in our school and our appearance," Esannason said. The corridors are painted a soothing lime green; a mural of a golden setting sun is the backdrop of the auditorium stage. "I'm really happy," she said, raising both hands up to show her satisfaction with the maintenance work.
At Juanita Gardine Elementary, Principal Catherine Mills walked around with her staff to assess the state of their building. Areas of critical concern included the cafeteria and the special education classroom, which has flooded when the shower facility is used.
Mills said extensive work was done to the grease-clogged sewage system, and overhead plumbing was replaced with 6-inch PVC piping and redirected to a downspout to eliminate flooding on walkways. "Mickey's Construction has worked here for the past three years," Mills said, adding that the owner "really has worked hard, and I know I can call on him if the need arises."
Superintendent Joseph thanked the V.I. Justice Department and its Bureau of Corrections for a program requiring offenders to perform routine tasks around the school as community service. "They have been a great help," Mills said.
Gardine kitchen manager Elna Sealey noted the need for a few minor repairs. Michael said there is a separate contract out for kitchen equipment and that the work remaining includes oven repairs and replacement of a screen door and counter tops. She said the custodial staff works year-'round, and personnel have been buffing floors and preparing classrooms for the new school year.
Peterson told her: "I'm impressed with your kitchen and cafeteria. It is one of the best I've seen throughout the territory."
Another summer project was to erect a chain-link fence between Juanita Gardine and the Positive Connections Alternative School to prevent intermingling of the elementary students and the more mature 7th and 8th graders at the adjacent facility.
At John Woodson Junior High School, officials said, work to correct safety violations and repair plumbing and ceiling fans totaled $65,000.
At Central High School, a new drain field was installed in the main courtyard, which has suffered extensive flooding even during light rainfall. Funds received from the Public Finance Authority were used to repair the music room door, which had been damaged in a fire and repeated break-ins over the years. Water and Power Authority crews trimmed trees to comply with fire safety regulations, and Caribbean Cooling installed a new air-conditioning system in the music facility. Insurance and security issues are still being negotiated, according to Michaels.
Educational Complex, St. Croix's newest high school, needed only minor structural repairs, including work on 75 fans, Principal Kurt Vialet said. He said he is proudest of the school's new computer wing. The eight-year-old school still needs to have a few screens replaced and the floors buffed.
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