Members of St. Thomas’ Savan neighborhood are concerned about the condition of the Savan Playground and Park and frustrated over delays in its long-promised renovation.
The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority said the project would be completed by July 31, 2019, but residents say almost a year later the park is in worse condition than before the work began.
The agency announced the renovation plan on Feb. 21, 2019, saying the improvements would “transform the park into an outstanding recreational space that community residents of all ages will be able to enjoy.” The park would feature a walking trail, adult exercise stations, tot-lot, barbecue grills, an updated and refurbished basketball court and modern bleachers. All of this was to be funded by a Community Development Block Grant to provide a highly anticipated public park that would better serve the Savan neighborhood and the students of the nearby Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School.
Devon Proctor, the only member of the community group who spoke on the record, was raised in Savan and attended the Tuitt school. He said he has become angry over the dilapidated space that holds so many childhood memories for him and his friends – a space that is now useless.
“That was my thing, I play ball, and now you can’t even do that,” Proctor said. “We used to do the little things that we could to keep it functional. It was the community that would keep the grass cut, rims on the backboards and pick up the trash.”
Proctor said years ago he had been able to speak with people to get much-needed lighting for the courts and put rims on the backboards to make them useable.
“We had rims and the backboards were fairly decent, so with the lights, we could make it work. But then a couple of years pass, and one light blew, then the next bulb blew, another bulb blew, and then there was only half a court to play on. Even with that one light on half of the court making it dim, we would still play ball. But from then to this day, it has been around seven years without any lights at all,” Proctor said.
In addition to the lack of lighting, when construction began on the park in March 2019, the rims Proctor and his friends had purchased and installed were taken down and never replaced.
Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority Public Information Officer Condon John said the project experienced some early challenges with pedestrian traffic running through the construction site.
“Upon realizing that the original barricades cut off a direct, short path through the park used by pedestrians seeking to access the Jane E. Tuitt School and area residents moving between upper and lower Savan, the project was suspended for several weeks while the barricades were reconfigured to create a safe pedestrian path through the area,” John said.
The reconfiguration resulted in lost time as work could not progress until new chain-link fencing was erected and the appropriate safety measures were put back in place, John said.
Additionally, the project was delayed temporarily while the contractor was forced to pull their crews to focus on another project that faced an urgent deadline for federal compliance, John said.
Because of those complications, the project could not be completed nearly as quickly as originally anticipated, nor as economically. John said the initial allocation of $140,171.09 in CDBG and local funds have already been expended. Because of the funding constraints, the project was broken into two phases. ABC Concept, Inc. will still be the contractors for the second phase of the project, as they were the first.
“The first phase of the project entailed selective demolition including removal of dilapidated playground equipment, installation of new handrails and guardrails, refurbishment of bleachers, replacement of fencing and/or wall on the northwest and southwest quadrants of the park and construction of a wooden deck over the old existing cistern,” John said.
It will take a second allocation of CDBG funds to cover the next phase of the project, but John said the second “phase is expected to get underway shortly.”
“The project is expected to resume upon the execution of the contract documents for the second phase. The second phase of the project will include the restoration of the basketball court, installation of new playground equipment, game and picnic tables, barbeque grills, adult exercise stations, fabric shade and lights,” John said.
This second phase, John said, will be completed no later than 180 calendar days after the issuance of the notice to proceed.
The unexpected second phase couldn’t come fast enough for Savan residents, who in the past have actively used the space to play basketball.
“I am a ballplayer; I like to play ball, and I am not one to go to exercise by running on the waterfront. My exercise is playing ball. And we’re not the ones to go to a different hood to play ball on their court. That’s not us, we stay home, we stay in Savan. So, if home don’t [sic] have the essentials then we’re kind of stuck,” Proctor said.