Sen. Janelle Sarauw, chairing the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure Friday, emphasized the importance of getting territory libraries back open. She said, “We are sending our children the wrong message when our libraries are not used as libraries.” She said education was all about reading and comprehension and added, “We need to get children excited about learning.”
Commenters on Facebook, where the hearing was streamed, echoed her concern.
Elsa Hall commented, “You need those libraries.”
Testifier Jean-Pierre L. Oriol, Commissioner, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, relayed some of the problems ongoing at the Charles W. Turnbull Library.
Daniela Simon commented on Facebook that someone should investigate “who built that library because the library had problems from day one.”
Oriol said he expected the Turnbull Library to be opened in a week or two, but it would have to be closed again for several months for mold remediation when walls would have to be taken out. The mold remediation project went out for bid in January 2022. The lowest bid received exceeded the allotted budget by $1 million. Thus the solicitation was canceled. A revised work scope and bid schedule have been submitted for review, and DPNR will be posting the revised project for bid before the end of this month for 30 days, said Oriol. The project is estimated to be over a five-month project.
Exterior parking lights have been installed at Turnbull, and, according to Oriol, this will allow evening hours at the library. Also, the air conditioning chiller unit that was damaged in the hurricanes has been replaced. Oriol’s department had been using Turnbull Library for office space but moved to office space in the Viya building in Tutu Park this spring.
Oriol said the design phase of a project at the Enid M. Baa Library, which closed in downtown Charlotte Amalie when Turnbull Library opened, has been completed.
He said that that project should go out to bid this month and when complete, the first floor of the library would have a welcoming center and store. Upstairs would be a computer-access library, classrooms, and exhibit hall.
Sarauw told the Source that, as far as she knew, no libraries were open in the territory.
Oriol reported on projects for the Florence Williams and Athalie Petersen libraries on St. Croix, which sounded like the projects the Department outlined in a November 2020 hearing. Florence Williams is currently under contract, and the repairs to the facility are currently ongoing. The public solicitation for the Petersen Library was closed due to the bids coming in 100 percent higher than the estimates.
Oriol did have good news about the Sprauve Library on St. John. A contract for the repairs was executed in November 2021, and the project commenced on Feb. 8. Due to some delays encountered by the contractor, according to Oriol, the completion of the project has been extended from June to late August.
Sarauw said the reason why the libraries were not opened was “in all honesty, abandonment and neglect.”
However, tourists might receive some educational benefits when visiting the territory. Oriol talked about a repair project going on at Fort Christian where additional money from a grant to the Department of Tourism would allow a self-guiding tour at the fort for tourists wearing headphones.
Attending the hearing were Sens. Sarauw, Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Franklin Johnson, Carla Joseph, and Genevieve Whitaker.