The V.I. Legislature will soon have a new home on St. John—one block away from its current location behind Julius E. Sprauve School to a new building next to the police station.
That’s according to Sen. Louis P. Hill, who added, “I expect to have employees in by the early part of January.”
The Legislature needs to move because the lower floor in its current two-story building flooded badly during the fall rains, Hill and Sen. Craig Barshinger both said. The Legislature’s director, Louis Willis, added that he fears the ceiling’s exposed beams will come down during a “shake or tremor” and hurt someone.
The lower floor of the current building houses offices for legislative staff, the senator at large staff and the staff for Delegate Donna Christensen. The upstairs area in the old building has seating and desks for all 15 senators plus a gallery area, although all 15 rarely meet on St. John.
However, various committees occasionally do hold meetings on St. John, usually when the topic concerns St. John residents.
While the Legislature holds the lease on the building and runs its operation, other government departments and agencies, as well as community groups, use the upstairs for meetings.
The location of both the old and the new building in Cruz Bay is an easy walk from the ferry dock, making it convenient for senators, staff and other government representatives to come from St. Thomas.
Both buildings are owned by former Sen. Robert O’Connor Jr.
Rent on the new building has complicated pricing. Willis said that because the Legislature is paying for the build out of the new space, which includes air conditioning and new wiring to support the Legislature’s electrical needs, it must recoup that cost though an adjustment in the rent.
Willis said rent for 2011 will be the same as the current rent on the old building, $4,661 a month. In 2012 and 2013, the rent will run $7,661 a month. Willis said the Legislature is still negotiating with O’Connor for the 2014 rent, but he expects it will be $11,460 a month. In 2015, the Legislature will begin paying the full $12,460-a-month rent.
According to Willis, the lease runs for 10 years, with the rent to increase 3 percent after five years.
The move to the new building doesn’t come without controversy.
“The process was done without any input from St. John,” Barshinger said.
He complained that the new building won’t have as much gallery space. However, Hill disputed that charge. He said that while the old building has room for 75 people, the new one will have room for 90 people.
Barshinger suggested that the new building have moveable desks and chairs for the senators so that the layout can be changed when needed to make more gallery room.
“It makes more sense to make it a house of the people,” Barshinger said.
The old building has a couple of parking spaces on the street marked for the Legislature. This means residents who want to attend public meetings have to scramble to find a spot somewhere in parking-deficient Cruz Bay.
The new building has room for about 18 parking spaces under its pillars, Willis said. He said the public will be allowed to park there when attending meetings. Practically speaking, only those who show up early will get those spaces at well-attended meetings, leaving the others to search for parking.
Hill said the chairs for the 15 senators will be moved to the new building, but the desks and gallery seating will not because they don’t fit the layout of the new building.
“They’re extremely uncomfortable,” Hill said of the old gallery seating.
Willis added that the new gallery seating will have cushions.
Willis said that there are plans to hook up the Legislature’s television system so meetings on St. John can be televised like those on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
The new building also will have a dedicated section for the press with an electrical outlet so reporters can plug in their computers, Hill said.