The V.I. Health Department went before the St. Croix Coastal Zone Management Committee on Friday to seek approval of its plans for the complete demolition of the Charles Harwood Memorial Hospital’s main building, annex building, and other permanent structures on the site, followed by the construction of a replacement building.
The demolition scope includes a full clearing of the structures on the site, including demolition of the three-story main building, one-story annex, and five outer buildings, and relocation of other temporary structures on the site, such as the Modular Lab.
The replacement building will be a state-of-the-art public health facility, which will be over 200,000 square feet in size, according to the Health Department. The new facility will promote health and wellness and house a range of clinical services such as community health, behavioral health, and family planning, as well as other public health services, including environmental health, epidemiology, and vital statistics, it said.
The Charles Harwood Hospital was constructed around 1952–1953 and was the main hospital for St. Croix until 1982 when Juan F. Luis Hospital was built. After 1982 the Health Department decided to utilize the Juan F. Luis Hospital as its primary medical facility.
Assistant Commissioner Reuben Molloy said that Charles Harwood underwent two major renovations, one after hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a second after Hurricane Lenny in 1999. Most of the damage occurred after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
A member of the design team, Gerville Larsen, said: “One of the first issues we’ll address is the asbestos and lead paint abatement on the site.” He continued, “We have taken into consideration the potential impact to the site, neighbors, and neighborhood with a sensitivity to the duration of the project.”
Larsen said of these impacts, they are addressing the effects of dust, noise, and water runoff that the demolition may have on the neighboring community and the environment. They have also studied the height of the new five-story facility that will affect the view but not a total blockage of the Caribbean Sea. “We are also concerned with the removal of a few trees based on the new design,” said Larsen.
“These will be replaced two-fold, as well as the landscaping of the site, which will be increased substantially with indigenous plants and species.”
Larsen said expanded healthcare services are just one part of this rebuild, and it will not only help improve the community but also be an economic catalyst. “There will be an uptick in construction jobs that will last till the facility is built. It will create additional jobs within the V.I. Department of Health. We feel this project will be a win-win.”
Another design team member, Steve Jackson of Flad Architects, said that after abatement is completed, the demolition will be conducted from east to west of the facility. No explosives will be used, precautions will be in place to reduce airborne debris, and fenced areas and hours of operations will be set up, he said.
“The clinical programs will all be centralized within the facility, and some additional programs will be added for the residents of St. Croix,” said Jackson.
“There are some additional components being added to the facility to really help educate, enrich and grow the community of St. Croix. We are really looking at creating public health as a wellness facility that can really highlight wellness in the territory. That includes teaching in the cafeteria and a café education and conference center and some outdoor patio gathering spaces all to support public health,” he said.
Jackson said that currently, the Health Department has 175 staffed employees, and the facility will be able to accommodate 360 employees. He said that a local contractor has already been selected for the rebuild, and they are looking for a ground opening in 2026.
Jackon also said during the questions portion of the meeting, “In reading all the FEMA reports and viewing all the buildings after the storm, the biggest issue on the island is with water infiltration and the failure of facilities was the roof.”
“We’ve done a couple of things; we’ve enclosed the mechanical units into a penthouse, so all of those units are not suspectable to the winds, so they have a barrier protecting them.”
Board member Kai Nielsen asked if the Health Department has a plan for patients and employees during the demolition. Molloy said there might be a risk. He said that the department is currently aggressively looking for locations. Molloy confirmed that they are close to leasing three locations, but other locations are still pending.
Commissioner Justa Encarnacion added, “The moving of what we have right now from an environmental standpoint, because of the barriers being placed, the movement of our clinical services will not be impacted. However, we have already had one communication with the community.” Encarnacion was referring to a town hall that was not well attended but said the department planned to hold others to inform the community. The locations of the selected facilities are within the consideration of bus routes, she said.
Attending the board meeting were Chairwoman Masserae Sprauve Webster, Kai Nielsen, and Carl Simmonds.
A CZM decision meeting will be held 30 days after the initial meeting.