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Demolition Leading to First New School Built in Two Decades Begins Next Week

An artist’s rendering of the new Arthur A. Richards Pre-K to 8th grade school to be built on the former Evelyn M. Williams Elementary site. (V.I. Department of Education website)

The demolition of Evelyn M. Williams Elementary on St. Croix, beginning Monday, will be “followed immediately” by construction of the first new school in 27 years, the contractor and government officials said at a V.I. Education Department press conference Wednesday.

The demotion should last about four months and the new school could be completed in two years, they said.

Education Commissioner-Nominee Dionne Wells-Hedrington, who is currently also chief operations officer at the department, said she had been involved in the project since the beginning. She watched plans evolve for the building and communicated with the community about the project. Williams is the first school to be replaced since the 2017 hurricanes and after years of structural problems.

The new facility, east of Frederiksted, will house pre-k through eighth grade students from the condemned Arthur A. Richards School, also east of Frederiksted. Richards was located in a tsunami zone, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would not approve re-construction at that location. Williams Elementary was closed in 2015, along with Elena Christian Junior High, due to longstanding environmental and structural issues.

“So V.I. community, get ready for the great things that are coming forward because we want to make sure as we work to improve the teaching and learning within our classrooms that we bring environments where teachers can really do their jobs more effectively, and it’s comfortable and conducive to learning,” Wells-Hedrington said.

Dionne Wells-Hedrington, Education Department commissioner-nominee, talks about rebuilding the Arthur A. Richards PreK-8 school at the former site of the Evelyn M. Williams Elementary Wednesday. (V.I. Education Department Facebook screenshot)

The project director for the demolition, Eleven Construction’s John Thompson said equipment will be delivered to the site on Monday and demolition will begin Tuesday. The project should take about four months to complete — between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said. The company has “environmental controls in place” for safety and to make sure there is not an abundance of dust and mud in the construction area.

Adrienne Williams-Octalien, director of the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery, said the new school will “rival any school on the mainland.”

“Anyone who’s been tracking the recovery of our schools, knows it’s been an arduous task to actually get to the point where we can begin to rebuild our first school. We have gone through a lot of changes, disagreements, negotiations with FEMA for the funding of the first school, and the Arthur A. Richards School has been deemed the first school that will be rebuilt to industry standards,” she said.

According to Chaneel Callwood-Daniels, architect and Education’s director of new school construction, the cost for the Williams project will be around $159 million, plus $3 million for the demolition. The demolition and rebuild will take “two years at least.”

Education officials speaking at the press conference said the next schools in line to be repaired or rebuilt could be St. Croix Central High, Charlotte Amalie High School and Addelita Cancryn. Every school in the territory will be repaired or replaced, they said.

The next step for the Williams school is negotiating a contract with a local architect to design and secure the permits for building the school.

More information about school rebuilding plans can be found here.

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