The St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management approved plans on Thursday, Sept. 29 to rebuild the Head Start Center in Cruz Bay, paving the way for up to 20 St. John families to help their preschoolers get ready to attend kindergarten.
The program largely serves children from low-income families, children with special needs, and those for whom English is a second language.
The Head Start building on St. John, located in Estate Contant and Enighed between a church and an animal shelter, has been closed since the building was severely damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
The center was constructed prior to Hurricane Hugo in 1989; although the building may appear intact, its construction “cannot meet the structural requirements of the 2018 International Building Code or accommodate the program requirements for a functional facility,” according to the Federal Consistency Determination Request, part of the Department of Human Services’ application to Coastal Zone Management.
The newly approved plan calls for demolition of the existing two-story building and construction of two adjacent buildings and an eight-vehicle parking lot. The project will begin as soon as all approvals have been finalized, a contractor is selected, and a construction schedule is furnished.
Carlos J. Sanchez Gonzales, the engineer who prepared the design for the Dept. of Human Services, wrote in his report that the new building is “designed to be within existing roadways and previously disturbed areas. The project will not impact any natural resources and will improve the visual landscape in the area. It will maintain coastal water quality through control of erosion, sedimentation, runoff, and siltation.”
The proposal was approved last Thursday during an online meeting hampered by the sudden onset of bad weather. Some members of the public and two St. John Committee members were unable to attend the Zoom meeting because of the storm, but three members did secure a connection and a quorum was reached, according to committee member Rafe Boulon.
Boulon said there was no opposition to the plan although some concerns were initially presented by the neighboring St. Ursula’s Episcopal Church. Boulon said the church’s concern about the inadequate septic system in the old building was addressed in the new design. The new structure will be tied into the town’s sewer system and will be processed by the municipal waste management treatment center.
Possible issues with excessive run-off from storm water will be addressed with the construction of a larger roof and cistern to hold water as well as an improved sediment basin, Boulon said.
V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett announced in August that the U.S. Department of Human Services was providing $42.4 million in grants to support Head Start in the territory. “This funding is for construction grants and will require zero local match to fund the construction and restoration of facilities territory-wide,” Plaskett said.