Prisoners from the Golden Grove Correctional Facility repainted the historic Oscar E. Henry Customs House last week as part of an ongoing effort to give the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted a facelift before the start of the tourist season.
The painting of the Customs House was a joint effort between the Department of Tourism, the Office of the Governor, and Bureau of Corrections and the St. Croix Foundation, according to Brad Nugent, assistant commissioner of tourism.
Nugent said the project had been on their wish list since Tourism moved its offices out of the building about three years ago due to a mold issue. The building, which sits directly across the street from the exit of the Ann E. Abramson Pier, has been unoccupied since then and had noticeably deteriorated.
“It being one of the first things our guests see, we felt it was necessary to fix that before the season begins,” he said.
The new, vibrant paint job makes the building look as though it is in much better repair, but Nugent pointed out that it is only a facelift.
“The building needs some serious work on the inside,” he said. It was built in the 19th century.
He added that the was glad the project was completed because it was something local civic leader Bob Merwin advocated for before his death in August.
“That was one of the last things he was trying to push the government to do before his passing and I think it’s only appropriate that we honor that,” he said.
Funds for the repainting were secured by the St. Croix Foundation.
Roger Dewey, president of the foundation, said the project was part of an ongoing beautification effort started after the closure of the Hovensa refinery to make the island more attractive to potential investors.
The foundation received grant money from the V.I. Waste Management Authority to hire inmates to do major cleanups around Christiansted and Frederiksted.
Prisoners are currently cleaning up properties in Christiansted and will soon begin repainting the old Anchor Inn building, which borders King Street.
Nugent stressed that the repairs were not just done for the tourists. He said that what the building was now “something worthy of the town.”
“If things are good for us, they’re great for our guests,” he said.