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HomeNewsLocal newsVIDE Moves Forward on Plans for a New School on St. John

VIDE Moves Forward on Plans for a New School on St. John

The VIDE presented this digital image of the preliminary design of new St. John school. (Image from the VIDE website)

The V.I. Education Department is moving forward with plans to construct a new school on St. John now that the legislation in the territory has been signed to approve a land swap between the government of the Virgin Islands and the National Park Service.

But in the best-case scenario, it will take another four years to complete the construction of the new Julius E. Sprauve School, according to Chaneel Callwood, lead architect for the V.I. Education Department.

The new school will be built on 11 acres in Estate Catherineberg, located about three miles east of Cruz Bay on Rt. 10. It is being designed to serve 460 students from pre-K through Grade 12. St. John’s only public school, the Julius E. Sprauve School, currently serves students in grades K-8, so high school students now must travel by ferry to St. Thomas to attend a public school.

A circle on this satellite image indicates the approximate site of the new school in Estate Catherineberg. Centerline Road runs horizontally and the John Head Road runs vertically. (Image from Map Geo)

 

Much of the current Sprauve School was destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017; since 2018, Sprauve School students have attended classes in modular classrooms designed to last for five years.

Sprauve School students currently attend classes in modular units. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

“Construction could begin as early as 2026,” Callwood told the Source, adding, “We will not have a firm construction schedule until after the project is placed out to bid and a contractor is selected.”

Callwood said the project was fully funded, and any required match in funding from the territory could be covered by grants through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.

In a joint press release sent out in Dec. 2023, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Delegate Stacey Plaskett announced that $133 million in federal grants was available to fund the project.

Callwood Outlines Steps and Timeline

Chaneel Callwood is the lead architect for the VIDE. (Photo courtesy VIDE)

Although the site for the school has been secured and funding has been identified, there’s still much to be done before the details of the design can proceed, according to Callwood.

Callwood outlined “an aggressive timeline for the project,” which sets forth a series of steps for 2024. Many of these steps are administrative.

The new school will be built on land that was formerly part of the Virgin Islands National Park and is being exchanged for Whistling Cay, a small island off the north shore of St. John that was owned by the territory. Property exchanges involving the National Park Service must be approved by the U.S. Congress, a process that could be complicated by the current political climate in Washington.

This slide from a public online meeting hosted by the National Park Service in April 2022 shows the two properties involved in the land swap – Whistling Cay and the entrance to the site of the school near Head Road in Estate Catherineberg. (Screenshot)

Additionally, the territory must complete a Federal Consistency Determination to facilitate compliance among various environmental permitting agencies and to allow federal financial assistance to move forward.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is the primary funding source, must approve the Bridging documents – the preliminary drawings and specifications presented to bidders on design-build projects.

FEMA and the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office must also agree on measures to assure compliance on issues involving environmental and historical preservation.

When the various administrative hurdles have been surmounted, “clearing and grubbing” – which means cutting trees and roots – can begin to prepare the site for soil boring and archeological monitoring.

Finally, the Request for Proposals (RFP) can be issued to prospective bidders, and a contractor can be selected to refine the design and complete the construction.

Callwood’s optimistic timetable allows a year for completion of design work (in 2025) and two years for construction (2026 to 2028.)

Resilience and Flexibility are Key Design Concepts

It’s inevitable that major storms will continue to devastate the islands, so “The new school buildings are designed with structural steel, concrete piers, impact-resistant glazing, and shutters to resist hurricanes,” Callwood said.

In addition, “The school gymnasium will be designed as a FEMA saferoom paid from the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The saferoom will be used as a hurricane shelter for St. John,” she said.

Some preliminary design work has been completed, with separate buildings for pre-K, Grades 1-4, Grades 5-8, and Grades 9-12.

“The buildings will sit on the land and will be interconnected by a series of walkways that allow for easy access to all the campus,” according to a report by the DLR Group, the architect and engineering firm that has prepared the Bridging documents.

To view an animation illustrating their preliminary design, follow this link, scroll down and click the bar to see the video.

The site includes a rise in elevation of 130 feet. Under the current plan, the youngest students will be taught at a building at the lowest elevation, and as students progress through the grades, they will move to classroom buildings placed at higher and higher elevations.

Knowing that populations and curriculums change over time, the designers have included features to ensure maximum flexibility. “Learning spaces will feature moveable walls” that can be reconfigured “to suit students’ learning styles and technology,” Callwood said. The design currently calls for open spaces whose use may be determined in the future.

In order to be environmentally responsible and be responsive to climate emergencies, “Roof shapes and forms are designed to leverage the use of photovoltaics (solar energy) and the collection of rainwater to create an ‘off the grid’ school,” the report continues.

The DLR Group has also taken into consideration lessons in school design made evident by the COVID-19 pandemic. “These lessons included everything from safe distancing of students and teachers, the ability to separate and manage distinct populations to avoid cross-contamination, to increased fresh air/air quality to the benefit of outdoor spaces,” according to their report.

The new school site is bordered by the Virgin Islands National Park, which contains many historic ruins, so it’s not surprising that a portion of the school’s site itself is also rich in historic artifacts. These “present opportunities for students and the community to commemorate our history,” Callwood added.

The selection of the Estate Catherineberg site for the school has been under discussion for decades, and in the past year, it has stirred significant controversy.

Now, the Sprauve School community is hoping that the process of building the new school outpaces the degradation of the current modular classrooms.

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