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Optimism Surrounds New School Constructions Yet Logistical and Funding Hurdles Await

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The recent Schools Advisory Board Meeting on a Tuesday afternoon saw education officials brimming with optimism regarding the forthcoming school constructions within the territory. This gathering emerges amidst growing discontent from parents, educators, and students in St. Croix concerning the present state of educational facilities, a situation the Department of Education is hustling to amend within a month’s span.

Education Commissioner Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington buoyed the attendees’ spirits, underlining the commencement of meticulous planning and examination of various architectural drafts at hand. Despite a scale-down from the original envisioning, Wells-Hedrington voiced that this development may indeed be a blessing in disguise. She highlighted that a compact blueprint allows for the establishment of eight fully-equipped schools instead of ten basic ones, thus paving the way for consolidation and operational issue mitigation.

Engagement from the DLR Group, a Nebraska-based design firm, further enriched the dialogue, focusing on tailoring each school to resonate with the local milieu. Associate Designer Peyton Nolan, while presenting visual renderings of the prospective designs, elaborated on the project’s core principles encompassing holistic child development, technological integration, health, safety, security, cultural appreciation, and resilience. The avant-garde establishments are conceived to harness photovoltaic energy, ensuring self-sufficiency, a move lauded by Ms. Nolan for tackling local energy challenges and enhancing the “thermal comfort” for occupants.

Extensive consultations involving approximately 7,000 students and 700 teachers across the territory have been orchestrated to gather insights on how school designs can foster a more interactive and conducive learning ambiance.

When probed about the long-term agenda to maintain the modern standards of these schools, officials elucidated on procuring a multi-year extended warranty from the contractor, diverging from the customary one-year warranty. This initiative is aimed at establishing a baseline for annual operational expenditures, thereby streamlining budgetary allocations for routine maintenance and indispensable repairs.

The architectural strategy is to adopt standardized components throughout the construction phase, allowing the Department of Education to stockpile a repertoire of parts and materials usable across different school infrastructures. This approach simplifies the repair process, eliminating the necessity for specialized part orders on each occasion.

Nevertheless, education authorities acknowledged the steep road ahead. Apprehensions loom regarding the timely completion of these projects and the potential funding shifts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency towards fixed cost offers, which could morph into a race against inflation. Delays could render the allocated funds inadequate for completing the constructions as planned. Moreover, orchestrating uninterrupted learning amidst the construction activities poses a logistical conundrum, necessitating strategic student relocations to avert disruptions in instructional continuity.

To foster transparency and continual engagement, officials have committed to quarterly meetings to update stakeholders on the significant strides and developments within the department’s major construction endeavors.

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Kansas Man Charged for Not Declaring Firearm During St. Thomas Visit

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ST. THOMAS — A Kansas man is facing charges in the District Court of the Virgin Islands for failing to declare a firearm during his visit to St. Thomas.

Customs and Border Protection officials, conducting routine inspections at the Cyril E. King Airport on Thursday, discovered the undeclared weapon during a secondary search prompted by a canine alert on a bag belonging to Robert Dean Zoch’s travel partner.

The search revealed a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver in Zoch’s checked luggage. The firearm, packed with five rounds of ammunition, was accompanied by an additional 10 rounds in speedloaders.

Zoch, a resident of Kansas, was on his way home on a Spirit Airlines flight with a layover in Orlando, Florida, when he was detained and questioned by Homeland Security Investigations agents. He admitted to knowingly packing the weapon in his bag without securing it, citing haste as the reason for his oversight. Zoch also confessed to not informing the airline about the firearm on either leg of his trip and admitted to lacking a federal license for the firearm.

According to court documents, Zoch claimed he carried the gun for protection due to reports of shootings in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Charged with failure to provide written notice of a firearm to a common carrier, Zoch appeared before U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller. He was ordered to sign an unsecured $15,000 bond for his release pending trial. His travel will be restricted to Shawnee County, Kansas, and St. Thomas. Additionally, his firearms will be held by authorities, and he must report regularly to the U.S. probation office.

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BVI Pastor and Radio Host Arrested on Allegations of Fraudulent Government Contracts

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Claude Skelton Cline, a well-known pastor and radio personality in the British Virgin Islands, has been arrested and charged with obtaining property by deception, false accounting, and proceeds of crime.

The arrest follows an announcement from former Governor John Rankin last March, revealing that an audit, recommended by the Commission of Inquiry, scrutinized government contracts awarded to Cline between 2008 and 2010. According to Rankin, the audit uncovered “failures in good governance and improper use of public funds.” The findings were forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecution, and the police.

BVI police stated that Cline’s arrest on Friday culminated an 18-month criminal investigation initiated by the audit’s findings. The audit revealed that Cline received over $350,000 during this period with negligible results from his consultancy work, leading auditors to conclude that the contracts primarily benefited Cline financially rather than providing value to the government.

“The government failed to receive value for money on these contracts,” the report stated. In response to the public disclosure of the audit findings last year, Cline asserted his innocence, claiming, “I did a phenomenal job for my part in a two-part contractual arrangement.” He further stated, “I feel no compunction to defend myself.”

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Joseph Anthony Ramirez Faces Attempted Murder Charges After Assaulting Officers in St. Croix

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At the Candido Guadalupe Housing Complex in St. Croix, a report of domestic violence on Sunday afternoon quickly turned perilous for responding officers, culminating in attempted murder charges for 37-year-old Joseph Anthony Ramirez.

The sequence of events unfolded when the Virgin Islands Police Department received a call around 2:33 p.m. from the 911 Emergency Call Center regarding a disturbance at apartment 85, building 7. Upon arrival, officers were informed by the victim that Ramirez had vandalized her apartment. As one officer began to investigate, Ramirez unexpectedly attacked, initiating an assault by placing the officer in a chokehold, threatening his ability to breathe.

The attack escalated even after a good Samaritan and the victim intervened, enabling the officer to momentarily escape. Despite being informed of his arrest, Ramirez attacked again, this time inflicting a severe laceration above the officer’s eyelid and resuming the chokehold. The situation required backup, with two additional officers arriving at the scene before Ramirez could be subdued and arrested.

Charged with attempted murder and third-degree assault, Ramirez was subsequently read his Miranda Rights, booked, and transported to the John Bell Correctional Facility. Unable to meet the initial $100,000 bail, Ramirez was held until a court hearing on Tuesday where his bail was reduced to $10,000. He remains in custody, with a bail hearing scheduled for later today, May 15.

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