Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has sent his proposed legislation to the 35th legislature for a land swap with the National Park Service that will allow the construction of a K-12 school on St. John.
For 50 years the territory has been trying to find land on St. John to build a school and an agreement with the NPS will be ready to move forward by July 1 if the legislation is approved, according to Government House.
“After half a century of setbacks and obstacles, our collective goal of establishing a secondary school on the island of St. John is at last a reality. This historic achievement is the result of the culmination of decades of work, spanning numerous administrations and requiring leadership from public servants across the nation,” Bryan said in a press release. “The gravity of the calling we share in protecting and providing for future generations has never been more apparent. Our opportunity to safeguard the future of education for our children is upon us.”
The governor’s proposed legislation calls for the exchange of Whistling Cay from the V.I. government to the U.S. Department of Interior in exchange for the NPS’s conveyance of a tract of land in Estate Catherineberg on St. John. The legislation will allow the territory to retain the water rights to Whistling Cay, and the proceeds received in the form of an equalizing payment of $210,000 from the National Park Service — to account for the difference in value between the two properties — will be appropriated to the St. John Capital Improvements Fund, said officials of the Bryan administration.
“This facility will serve the community, not just as a school, but it will also provide a hardened hurricane shelter, a meeting space for public assemblies, and athletic facilities for the people of St. John,” said Bryan.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be funding the construction of a modern K-12 school facility with all of the associated amenities, according to press release.
“The acquisition of this property will allow us to position the school in a convenient location for students, and finally enable St. Johnians to graduate from high school on their home island of St. John,” said Bryan.
The Julius E. Sprauve School, the only remaining public school on St. John, serves children from kindergarten through grade 8. The school was heavily damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Students have been attending classes in modular units placed on the ball field in Cruz Bay since the storms.
Under the present proposal, when a new school is built in Catherineberg, the ball field will go back into operation as a recreational facility under the administration of the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation.
The island’s high school students — except those attending the Gifft Hill School, a small private school on St. John — must take a ferry to St. Thomas to attend school as they have since 1934 when Guy Benjamin became the first St Johnian to graduate from a Virgin Islands high school. St. Johnians have long clamored for a public high school on St. John.