May 24, 2006 – Bournefield residents should not be worried about their impending eviction because the V.I. government has not yet identified funds for the construction of a new Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, senators said during a Committee on Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs meeting held Wednesday evening.
Senators were further convinced of this belief after Keith Richards, special assistant to the governor in charge of capital projects, testified that there are currently no design plans available for the project. Instead, Richards said the Education Department has "formed a task force" that will work with an architectural and engineering firm to develop the various construction documents.
Richards' testimony contrasts with statements made by Darlan Brin, executive director of the V.I. Port Authority, during a Senate hearing last month. At the time, Brin had sent eviction notices to the Bournefield residents in early March, after twice meeting with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and other public officials about selecting the area as the preferred site for Cancryn. He said that in those meetings, Turnbull indicated that funding for the project had been identified and authorized VIPA to proceed with developing a construction schedule.
However, during Wednesday's meeting Kent Bernier Sr., acting executive director of the Public Finance Authority, said that funding the construction of the new school has not been addressed by the PFA board.
Bernier explained that, according to local law, the PFA has the authority to issue bonds up to a certain amount without being authorized to do so by the Legislature. However, he said such an issue would still have to be approved by the PFA board. "And no request for funding on this project has been submitted to us as yet," he said in response to questioning from Sen. Louis P. Hill
Bernier added that he "is not aware" that any funding request was submitted to former PFA Executive Director Kenneth Mapp.
"So it's finally revealed that the Bournefield residents will sit where they are for the next few months – maybe even the next few years – while the government decides exactly where this school should go, where the money is going to come from, and do all the other things they have to do before causing these residents any more distress," Hill said. "Because there's no way that anything is going to be put in place before August."
Other senators agreed. "The whole reason everyone's pushing for this deal is because of the land swap," Sen. Liston Davis said. He explained that in exchange for allowing the V.I. government to develop Bournefield, the Port Authority will now be able to "extend its marine facilities" on the land currently occupied by Cancryn.
Richards disagreed. He said there were originally three sites proposed for the project, and Bournefield was selected because "there was enough land to develop a school." He added that that since the site was also closer to Charlotte Amalie, students from the Sugar Estate, Contant and Estate Thomas areas would be able to get to school easily, instead of having to be bussed to more distant parts of the island.
Richards said that keeping the school "west of Charlotte Amalie" would also serve more students. "The population we're looking at in the downtown area is something like 5,000 people per square mile," he said. "Whereas if you put a school closer to say, Bordeaux or Fortuna, you'd only be serving about 500 people per square mile."
Attorney Elmo Adams added that the government was looking for the site that would have the "least impact" on members of the community.
The other sites originally proposed by VIPA – which acts as the landlord to the Bournefield community – were in Contant near the former Island Block complex, and a parcel of land near the Ulla F. Muller Elementary School.
"No communities live on or near those sites," Josephine Lindquist, a longtime Bournefield resident, said after the meeting. "So it's insensitive for someone to say that they were thinking about what would impact the residents. VIPA didn't even conduct an impact study, so how would they know?"
"The Port Authority made a boo-boo with Bournefield," Sen. Celestino A. White added.
On a more positive note, Lindquist said she is "confident" that Bournefield residents would not have to move out in August. "There are no plans in place yet," she said. "They don't even have any funding. My only concern is that this is whole issue is going to drag on and cause more stress to the residents."
However, in a letter sent to the committee Tuesday, Brin wrote that the VIPA Board would consider extending the eviction date if "the government does not appear to be on schedule with the project."
Present at Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Davis, Hill, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Ronald E. Russell and White.
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