Sept. 2, 2005 St. John residents got a "sneak preview" Thursday of St. John School on Gifft Hill's new building.
The steel building will eventually be used as a gymnasium. Meanwhile, the school moved its junior high school and high school grades out of cramped quarters in the Lumberyard Shopping Complex in Cruz Bay and into classrooms built out of prefabricated panels located inside the steel building.
"With our new facility, the school is going to be so great," student council president Tyler Bradley said at the celebration ceremony held on the school's deck.
The school's pre-kindergarten through sixth grades remain at the school's other campus located a short drive north on Gifft Hill Road. Co-administrator Scott Crawford said that campus opened in 1982 when Pine Peace School moved its students there.
Pine Peace School and The Coral Bay School merged last year to become the St. John School on Gifft Hill. The Coral Bay School opened five years ago as the island's only high school
Fred Trayser, a school parent and contractor who put up the building for a $1 honorarium, humorously accepted an outsized check in that amount from co-administrator Sabrina Boebert.
School board president Dale Miller also got a big check for "not one red cent" for his efforts in bringing the building to fruition.
Trayser said the steel part of the building is 14,500 square feet. It has 3,000 square feet of deck space and a 5,000-square-foot section underneath.
"The building is rated to 140 mph winds," Trayser said.
The building went up in nine months.
The $2.25 million building came in at $65 a square foot, a miraculous figure for highly-priced St. John. While a $1.5 million loan came through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program, First Bank made the school a bridge loan to fund the project until construction finished.
Donations also came from private sources to help fund the project.
First Bank's first senior vice president Cassan A. Pancham said that the bank was glad to be involved in the project because of its long presence on St. John. The bank's predecessor, Chase Bank, has operated on St. John for decades.
Chuck Clemons, the Florida-based state director for Rural Development, likened the building construction to an old-fashioned barn raising, with the community making it happen.
Lt Gov. Vargrave Richards echoed Clemons' remarks, noting that the children would be the greatest beneficiaries of the community's efforts.
Boebert said that the building is ready to accept students. However, school will open Sept. 12, six days later than planned, to give teachers time to set up their classrooms.
The event attracted a wide spectrum of residents and St. John School teachers. One who came for a look around was St. John School first-grade teacher Jane Roskin, the former special education teacher at Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay. Her Education Department-ordered transfer to a St. Thomas school sparked an outcry by parents and residents who were angry that the school no longer had a special education teacher.
She said the St. John School staff made her feel very welcome.
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