The V.I. Department of Education’s Division of Operations introduced the first phase of the demolition of the Arthur A. Richards Junior High School on St. Croix on Thursday at a virtual community meeting held via Zoom on their Facebook page. Residents who live close to the demolition site were encouraged to attend to voice their concerns.
In 2017, hurricanes Maria and Irma severely damaged schools across the territory. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved money to go towards the demolition and total rebuild of schools on all three islands.
A $3.8 million contract will help with the demolition and construction of the new Arthur A. Richards Junior High School. At Thursday’s meeting Dionne Wells-Hedrington, chief operations officer for Education, expressed the department’s excitement at the beginning of what she called a major milestone project in the territory. “A series of demolition projects are slated to begin, and Arthur A. Richards is first on deck,” Wells-Hedrington said.
St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Carlos McGregor shared that he had the opportunity to speak to some of the neighbors in the area, who were thrilled about the new project. “The demolition of the Arthur A. Richards School’s old location is just the first step in the relocation process. We are also looking forward to the demolition of the old Evelyn M. Williams Elementary School because it will be the new site for the new Author A. Richards, the first K-8 school in the territory,” McGregor said.
Wells-Hedrington then introduced the St. Croix-based contractor Consolidated Asphalt and Civil Works, LLC. Laurence Richards, the company’s president, opened by sharing just how close to home the project is for him. “I am one of the nephews of Dr. Arthur A. Richards,” he said.
Richards, who also once attended Arthur A. Richards, has a 25-year background in construction. Richards said, “We are trying to minimally impact the neighborhoods surrounding the school.”
Some of the conditions residents can expect are the mobilization of heavy equipment, noise and dust. “We are going to keep the dust down with water, but neighbors will feel some impact, but my goal is minimal,” Richards said. The staging area will be located at the back of the school near the generator room in the parking lot. If neighboring homes wish to discuss any concerns regarding the demolition project, they are encouraged to contact Carlos Velasquez who will be on-site or contact Richards directly at 340-514-8499.
The 120-day contract was expected to begin on Sept. 3, but Richards said, “My team has already begun the mobilizing process as of last week. They have already started cleaning the area. Next week we will be installing a temporary construction fence.” By October, Richards expects to have a crane on-site to begin the demo of the gym, cafeteria and auditorium area. If all goes as planned, he anticipates the completion date for the demolition of Arthur A. Richards to be Dec. 31.
Education’s architect Chaneel Callwood-Daniels briefly touched on the plans for Evelyn M. Williams Elementary School and encouraged the community to contact the contracting company if they have any concerns. “The new Arthur A. Richards is going to have flexible learning spaces, as well as athletic facilities and at least one of the new schools we have on St. Croix will have a swimming pool.” The new Arthur A. Richards Junior High School’s expected completion and launch is projected for four to four and a half years.
“The VIDE is transforming and remaining transparent by continuing to bring the information directly to the community,” Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin said in closing remarks.