The compromised wastewater and storm drain system at St. Croix Central High School will be replaced this summer so that the campus can reopen for the start of the new school year in August, the Department of Education announced Friday.
Officials from the Departments of Education, Public Works, and Property and Procurement met this week to finalize plans for the work, according to the news release.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said crews should be going into Central High within the next two weeks to begin the process.
Explaining that the campus is connected to an old wastewater system with several “crossed connections,” Smalls said that instead of expending unnecessary time and resources to pinpoint each connection, it would be quicker to replace both systems on campus, which have been identified as the source of the foul odor that has shut down CHS since March.
After the campus was shut down, Central students had to attend classes at the St. Croix Educational Complex, with both student bodies sharing the campus on a split schedule.
Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said keeping the CHS campus closed is not an option. She urged the project be “fast-tracked,” with prospective contractors coming in to take a look at the campus and familiarize themselves with the scope of work within the next week.
“We thank our students, their parents and our Central High School staff for their commitment over the past few months,” Frett-Gregory said. “Now that the testing has been complete and the source identified, we have been working aggressively with our government partners to do all that we can to ensure Central is back up and running for the new school year.”
“We are also prioritizing any other major repairs needed at the campus over the next month in an effort to ensure that our students feel as comfortable and as safe as possible when they return in August," she said.
Central High’s mid-island campus was closed in March after a series of reports by students and faculty about a foul odor on campus forced shortened school days several times over a month. The issue came to a head March 18 when a reported 35 students and at least one adult sought medical attention at the Juan F. Luis Memorial Hospital emergency room for symptoms including nausea, shortness of breath and a burning sensation in the chest.
The school was closed "temporarily" while investigators from the DPNR, Education, the V.I. National Guard, the federal EPA and others worked to track down the elusive smell.
After a two-week hiatus, Central High students returned to classes April 1, but those classes were on a different campus. For the remainder of the school year Central and St. Croix Educational Complex High School have shared the latter’s campus, with Complex students attending class in the morning, and Central students in the evening.
During the closure, a host of government agencies prowled over, under and around Central trying to track down the source of the odor. In May, Government House released an executive summary of their report, called "Executive Summary: Operation Breathe Easy II," which places the blame on the sewer system in the area, including the nearby Barren Spot lift station, and a leaking propane tank, which was immediately repaired.