Education Commissioner: Come Home, School Will Be Open

Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum (File photo)
Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum (File photo)

Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum encouraged students living on the mainland and their parents to “come home” for the next school year, and promised at a news conference on St. Thomas Friday that the department will be “

fully open” for business come September.

The department is on track to open public schools for students the day after Labor Day, and McCollum said the schedule for getting all sites ready by then is aggressive. Approximately $34 million has been awarded from the Federal Emergency Management Agency “as a start,” according to government officials, and McCollum said that the department will order 286 modular classrooms and 37 Sprung units to replace those facilities damaged during September’s hurricanes.

The total cost of putting in the temporary structures will be finalized after the ongoing bid process for contractors needed to install them. Government House chief of staff Anthony Thomas said the government estimates the cost of ordering the modulars, prepping the sites and installation at $275 per square foot.

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In the meantime, there will be no down time for the department as it prepares for the fall, McCollum said. With the current school year wrapping up on June 29, the commissioner said graduations for the territory’s four public high schools have been set and after that, it will be “all hands on deck” as Education works to get its sites ready for the modulars to come in.

Graduation dates are: June 23 for Kean, June 24 for Charlotte Amalie, June 27 for Central High and June 28 for Educational Complex.

“As the modulars are being fabricated, site prep will be ongoing,” the commissioner said Friday. “The plan is that once the modulars arrive, the sites will be ready so really, it is just a matter of off-loading the modular from the ships and driving them to the sites. We will not have any down time where they will just be sitting.”

Site prep over the summer months include electrical work and reinforcing connections to sewer and water lines, among other things, and Thomas said all contractors bidding on the installation know that the deadline date is Aug. 1. After that, “all hands” have to be on deck once more to make the modulars “classroom ready” by Sept. 1.

McCollum said the units were designed to meet all capacity requirements, and should be able to hold between 30 and 40 students. The Sprung units, named for the company that makes them, will be used to replace kitchens, cafeterias, school gymnasiums, and some of the department’s larger facilities such as the Curriculum Center and warehouse. All units are designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane – Thomas said there’s nothing on the market now that’s stronger – and once on island, will be placed on sites with full security.

“And again, I encourage those families off island to come home,” McCollum said Friday. “We are going to have full classes, full school and we will no longer be on double session. We will be fully open for business in September.”

Once the units are in, McCollum said, the department will turn its attention to building new schools and facilities, a large task since DOE has more than 3 million square feet of property between the three islands. A task force has been put in place to manage the recovery efforts, and to lead the charge in managing the interface with FEMA, she said.

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