St. John residents got their first look at a concept for the long-planned combined elementary and high school on tap to be built at Catherineberg.
“Based on what we’re looking at, it appears this is a viable project,” Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said at a meeting held Tuesday at Julius E. Sprauve School.
The Education Department, the Public Works Department and the Governor’s Office put their heads together to determine if it was feasible to build the much-needed school on about 11 acres of V.I. National Park land at Catherineberg.
Smalls said after the meeting that the idea of swapping this land for local government-owned land somewhere in the territory was still on the table but nothing is set in stone. Initially, the proposal called for a piece on St. Croix to be swapped for the Catherineberg parcel.
The Catherineberg acreage was identified by the National Park Service as land it was willing to part with, according to John Woods, the architect hired by the project team. It was donated to the park long after the park was established in 1956 so is not subject to the regulation that requires land be returned to the original owner if the park no longer needs it. Additionally, Woods said it’s at the fringe of park land in that area so it’s not carving a chunk out of the park.
The land abuts the north side of Centerline Road. The western boundary starts roughly across Centerline Road from the George Simmons Terrace entrance road. The east side begins adjacent to John Head Road, which is the road into the Catherineberg residential area that passes the historic windmill and other ruins showcased by the park.
The feasibility study was funded by a $200,000 Interior Department Technical Assistance Grant.
The “scoping” meeting was called so Woods could provide information on what a cultural resources studies showed was on the property. He said a park study indicated that in addition to an existing non-historic house called the Bishop House, stone walls, the remains of a village and two areas with prehistoric materials, mainly shells, were discovered.
Woods said the school will be built to avoid those historic areas.
The local government is a long way from firming up the final details of the school because negotiations with the Park Service aren’t done and it doesn’t have the financing.
According to Woods, the conceptual plans are for a school that will house 500 students ranging from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. It will be 120,000 square feet in size, with an auditorium and gymnasium building, a cafeteria, classrooms, an administration building a football field, and a baseball field.
He said the study found no endangered species on the land.
In response to a question from Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren, Smalls said that there are grants available to fund construction but it’s premature to look for them.
“We have to have all our ducks in a row,” he said.
He also told Wilma Marsh Monsanto that the school would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“You can’t get a building permit if it’s not ADA,” Smalls said.