Coral Bay’s now closed Guy Benjamin School will get a new lease on life as a multipurpose center to house organizations and programs serving the community.
“I don’t think Guy Benjamin should bet sitting there not being used,” Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum said Tuesday.
McCollum said she expects the facility, to be called the Guy Benjamin Community Center, to open in the spring.
The school closed in June 2014 because of declining enrollment and teacher shortages. It is named after Guy Benjamin, an educator who died at age 98 in 2012.
McCollum said there currently are no plans to reopen the school as a school because of budgetary constraints. She said there still aren’t enough students to warrant a school in Coral Bay.
However, she said it’s hard to say what will happen in the future regarding a Coral Bay school.
According to McCollum, the school remains in pretty good shape but needs to be cleaned, painted and have air-conditioners installed.
The community center project is a joint effort between the Education Department, which owns the 10,032-square-foot property spread among seven buildings, and the nonprofit Partnerships in Hope-St. John.
Partnerships in Hope is the brainchild of Glen Hall, a South Carolina resident involved in the real estate industry who spends fall, winter and spring on St. John.
“We’re the facilitator,” Hall said of Partnerships in Hope.
He said the organization connects people with ideas to people who can help fund them if they don’t have their own funding.
The partnership is in line with the department’s 2015-16 theme of Transformation Through Teamwork.
“It was part of my philosophy when I came on board to create public-private partnerships,” McCollum said.
The department’s press release indicates that Partnerships in Hope comprises businessmen and women, teachers, pastors, philanthropists and service industry workers.
It is guided by eight principles, two of which are “always have our children’s needs as a priority” and “only offer help where it is wanted and needed.”
“One of the main things that we want to try to do is to help kids on the island learn how to read before first grade,” Hall said in the press release. “It’s very difficult for anyone to be successful if they don’t know how to read. So we want to start early.”
The Coral Bay Community Council is also involved with the project.
“CBCC will do everything we can to get volunteers and dollars to rehabilitate the school,” Community Council President Sharon Coldren said.
She said the building in the back, where community groups often met in one of the classrooms, is the first one slated for a fix up.
Coldren said that the organization will hold a community meeting to determine what residents want for the building.
On Nov. 19, the Community Council will clean the school’s grounds as part of its community cleanup day activities.
McCollum urged anyone wanting to get involved in this project, or ones she hopes to get going on St. Thomas and St. Croix, to contact her office. The number is 774-0100.
Additionally contact the Community Council at www.coralbaycommunitycouncil.org or Partnerships in Hope at http://www.partnershipsinhope-stjohn.org.