Aug. 3, 2006 – After nearly 20 years of discussion between the U.S. Interior Department and the V.I. government about swapping or leasing V.I. National Park land in order to build a centrally located school on St. John, Gov. Charles Turnbull has jumped into the fray.
Turnbull's office issued a press release Tuesday noting that he met with the new Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to "discuss his proposal to build a comprehensive school on St. John." He also asked for the Interior Department's support on local environmental and development issues.
The governor said he proposed swapping land within the park boundaries for several offshore cays to protect them from future development.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley, who's been working on this issue for most of his nearly eight years on the job, said it appears that a deal is getting closer.
He said the plan is to exchange close to 15 acres of land at Catherineberg, located mid-island, for Whistling Cay, Carvel Rock and Flanagan Cay. He was unsure whether it was Mingo Cay or Congo Cay that was also included on the list.
Harley said that in the past two years, National Park Service officials finally came around to realizing that St. John needs this property for a school.
He said he wants to see a school large enough for kindergarten through 12th grade, a vocational school, a UVI satellite facility, a gymnasium, and a track and field facility.
"I even got ambitious and put in a swimming pool," he said, laughing.
Harley said the property is located east of Catherineberg Road, but the entrance will be on Centerline Road.
Harley said that the government needs to float bonds to pay for the school so the property doesn't sit unused for years once the land swap concludes.
He said he envisioned turning Julius E. Sprauve School into a government complex. This would allow government offices now scattered around St. John to be centralized in one location.
Harley said he also sees part of the government complex being used as a community center but said he wanted to hear from the community about its wishes.
He said that if officials don't think St. John has enough students for such a complex, particularly for the vocational school, St. Thomas students could commute to St. John. Since St. John only recently got a private high school, public, religious, and private high school students have commuted to St. Thomas via boat for many decades.
Harley said he was pushing for the vocational school because trade training opened up so many job possibilities for the territory's youth who aren't college bound.
"We need plumbers, we need electricians, we need carpenters," he said.
He said those trades are needed to maintain and build St. John's vast number of vacation villas.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone weighed in on the matter, noting that St. John students have commuted to St. Thomas too long.
"The construction of a high school on St. John will further mark the development of the island and will demonstrate that the island is continually improving," he said.
St. John resident Steve Black has vowed to make the land swap an election issue. He said he's sent letters about the proposed deal to all candidates in the gubernatorial and senatorial elections.
"We have laid down the gauntlet. If we don't do it now, we won't hear about it for four more years," he said.
He said it is imperative to move Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay because it sits in the noisy and congested center of town.
He said moving the school is the only issue that unites St. John residents.
Brian Modeste, an aid to Delegate Donna M. Christensen, could not be reached for comment.
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