The U.S. Office of Insular Affairs will provide $2.1 million to the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education for school maintenance, Delegate Stacey Plaskett announced Thursday.
“The the Department of Interior and Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina has released more than $2 million in grant funding to the Department of Education for maintenance to the territory’s school," Plaskett said. "As we all know, the schools in our territory are in dire need of repair and most of them, quite frankly, need to be rebuilt.”
The delegate said, “We have not had a new school built in the territory in over two decades. Today’s announcement is a step forward and I want to commend” the Interior Department and Kia’aina “for their unwavering support to the Virgin Islands,” Plaskett said.
The grant funding is part of OIA’s Insular Assessment of Buildings and Classrooms (ABCs) Initiative.
The funds will be used to install or replace fire alarm systems, upgrade fire protection and plumbing infrastructure, conduct heating, ventilation, and air conditioning repairs in schools, as well as to conduct structural repairs at other public school facilities.
Plaskett said that while the announcement is very good news for the territory, there is still work ahead for the years to come.
“We have also pushed for an increase in funding in the coming calendar years. While the Department of Interior is supporting us in those efforts, House Republicans have not supported the proposed spending under OIA’s Territorial Assistance Program. Therefore, we will continue to push for those additional funds because our territory needs them,” she said.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s five-year strategic plan includes a goal to improve quality of life in the insular areas, with a focus on education. Through the ABCs Initiative, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided Interior with a unified system for documenting and monitoring the structural conditions and operating systems of all schools in the territories, while providing indications of the adequacy and effectiveness of the resources devoted to facilities maintenance.
As part of this initiative, all school sites and buildings, structural elements, and the health, safety, and welfare of inhabitants were assessed during the inspections, according to Plaskett’s news release.