The Education Department's goal is to ensure that each school is safe and prepared to open in September, according to officials.
Thursday's St. Thomas tour focused on the overall state of the schools, with officials looking at general repairs, contracted projects and student-built work. For the summer, each district received $1.4 million for maintenance projects. St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Superintendent Joseph Sibilly said that so far, all of that has been spent in the district on items submitted by the schools at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
The requests ran from installation of doorknobs to completely redoing bathrooms and entranceways. Each request is reviewed on the district level and approved based on the need and level of funding available, he said. Sibilly added the smaller projects tend to be completed in-house by the St. Thomas-St. John district's small maintenance staff, which is short six or seven people due to budget cuts and early resignations, the superintendent added, while the larger projects are contracted out.
Multi-million dollar budget cuts over the past four years have also pushed the department to abandon its larger scale summer efforts in favor of year-round maintenance, which Frett-Gregory said this week helps cut down on deferred maintenance costs by addressing problems right away.
Weeks ago, V.I. Port Authority officials announced they would take care of another of the school's problems, the demolition of two vacant Bournefield Housing Community units that school administrators worried could become a breeding ground for illegal activities. While Bournefield residents have argued against it, Hassell-Forde said removing the buildings behind the school have actually brought some relief and gave Sibilly the chance to create a new entrance at the back of the campus, with concrete stairs, railings and an electronic security gate.
Community partners such as the Port Authority, WAPA and Public Works have helped to fill some of the gaps by helping with overall maintenance work, Sibilly added as he pointed Thursday to workers from Public Works removing a downed tree on the Gladys Abraham campus.
"Of course we still have challenges – nothing is perfect," Hassell-Forde said at the end of the tour. "But this school has come a long way over the past few months and really, all we want to do is make sure everything is functioning and safe for the students."
Some schools, such as Addelita Cancryn Junior High, have been consistently maintained over the years and Sibilly explained Thursday that all that was really needed this summr was some painting and roof work.
Walking around the campus, Frett-Gregory also said some puddles will be dried before school starts Tuesday, helping to cut down mosquito breeding and the threat of dengue.
Two of the school's bathrooms were also redone, he added.
Francis said giving the students a chance to fix up their own campus creates a sense of ownership, which they pass on to others during the school year.
"They'll say, 'Hey man, don't you know how long it took me to build that?' if they see another student damaging or defacing the school," Francis said. "We think that's quite great, and a very important lesson to teach them."
Frett-Gregory said sending students back to well-maintained and functioning facilities is part of an effort to "create a positive school culture," which she said will help to kick the year off on the right foot.
Meanwhile, there have been a few "wish-list" items some schools were able to get this year, including a sound booth at Gladys Abraham (to help the school's celebrity choir lay down their tracks) and an auditorium at Cancryn. The Cancryn facility has been two years in the making, but should be turned over to the school during the upcoming semester, according to Sibilly.