(Note: This is the first of a two-part series. A second installment to be published Saturday will provide a history of the property.)
Under a rainbow of balloons, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. along with a dozen celebrants cut the ribbon on the restored Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum in Cruz Bay Wednesday morning.
The ceremony was the culmination of nearly four years of work to rehabilitate the historic structure, which has been closed since 2019.
“I hope you’re all as excited as I am,” said Adrienne L. Williams-Octalien, director of the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery, which oversaw the reconstruction. “Irma and Maria brought us the opportunity to build resilience.”
Williams-Octalien said FEMA provided $355,748.53 to begin the process and thanked the governor for finding funding for the remainder of the upgrade.
The reconstructed building now glows under its many coats of yellow paint, but the library is still not ready to open to the public. The government is still in the process of “onboarding” staff, according to Amy Parker DeSorbo, director of DPNR’s Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums.
The last librarian to work full-time at the St. John Library was Ashley Till, who resigned in 2016.
From 2016 until 2018, librarians from St. Thomas commuted several days a week to keep the doors open, assisted by DPNR employees who lived on St. John. In 2018, Carla Sewer was hired as a library technician, but within a year she left the territory to complete her Master’s in Library Science; she was not rehired upon her return, and the Sprauve Library has remained closed since August 2019.
During the past four years, book lovers and former members of the St. John Friends of the Library questioned why it was taking so long to complete the repairs, holding several public protests and keeping the issue alive on social media.
DPNR officials did not provide details, but several months ago, a construction worker told the Source that the contract for painting the library had to be resubmitted because the previous contract called for painting only three sides of the building.
At the ribbon cutting, Williams-Octalien confirmed the report. She said FEMA was very specific about what qualified for disaster repair funding, and although some portions of the building were seriously damaged by the storms, other parts were left intact. The V.I. government had to find other sources of funding to complete the upgrade.
“As we move to the third and the fourth projects, I wish we could say things are getting easier,” said Jean-Pierre “JP” Oriol, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Starting next week, Pamela Richards, who has had a long career in government service, said she will start training to fill in as a “placeholder” until permanent staff can be hired. Richards now directs the St. John Historical Society and operates a bookstore on St. Thomas that specializes in Caribbean history and books by Caribbean authors.
Parker De Sorbo said she would make an announcement when the library is open to the public. She said once the full staff is in place, library hours will be extended till 6 p.m. and be open on Saturdays.