The V.I. Port Authority has money to begin renovation at the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport – work that is currently underway – but is nowhere close to the funding needed for a major reconstruction of St. Croix’s airport.
James Benton, of Benton Construction, and Kyle Holley, of American Infrastructure Development, discussed the airport project during a visit to the Rotary Club of St. Croix Mid-Isle on Sept. 30.
Holley said the project has gone through several incarnations since he began working with VIPA on airport reconstruction in 2018.
“We put together an ultimate plan that would add a second story to the terminal, add boarding bridges and would cost about $270 to $300 million,” he said.
After hurricanes Irma and Maria, Holley said they were hoping to get a $300 million grant that would cover the costs, but the grant did not come through.
“After we did not get the full funding for the terminal, VIPA investigated purchasing bonds … If anyone knows about the bond rating in the U.S. Virgin Islands and just the cost of bonds knows that it would have doubled the cost of this phase we are in now,” he said.
At about the same time that VIPA was ready to purchase bonds, the Economic Development Administration came up with a relief grant specifically for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The grant is specifically to aid in the recovery efforts and economic impact projects.
Holley said the Port Authority applied and was granted $8 million to go towards the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport project. The project will address the immediate concerns that the airport has in terms of capacity. The departure lounge is undersized and can currently hold up to 350 passengers.
“The project that James Benton is building will double the capacity for that area,” Holley said.
There are also plans to create an enclosed area for arcades and install new concessions.
The project, which was expected to take about 18 months, is now expected to be completed within 12. Benton, who expressed his excitement in taking on the task ahead, said, “These types of projects that affect a community are the ones we enjoy the most.”
Benton touched on their plans to take the exterior walls and move them to the outside of the walkway, creating a larger space and doubling the size.
“The entire interior will be done in multiple phases,” Benton said. The airport is scheduled to remain open while the upgrades take place. Passengers also can expect a new restroom area, epoxy flooring, upgraded ceilings, new air conditioning, sprinkler systems, new floor outlets, airline ticket counters and structural work. Benton asked the public to practice patience as these upgrades occur. What passengers can expect to see are temporary walkways at the airport.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Benton said.
After the presentation, Benton had a surprise for the Rotary Club. He presented a $5,000 donation that left some of the members emotional.
“It is with extreme gratitude that the Rotary Club St. Croix Mid-Isle accepts James Benton’s extremely generous donation on behalf of J. Benton Construction,” Club President Jennifer Koockogey said. “In the wake of COVID-19, fundraising for community projects has been extremely challenging, to say the least. This donation will enable the club to continue with projects in the community, including a much-anticipated reading project which is directed at the primary schools of St. Croix.”