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Disaster Recovery

Significant Progress at Arthur A. Richards PreK-8: First Concrete Layer Sets Stage

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The Virgin Islands Department of Education celebrated a remarkable milestone at the Arthur A. Richards PreK-8 School construction site this Wednesday. Commissioner Dionne Wells-Hedrington of the Department of Education (D.O.E.) jubilantly confirmed the commencement of the first concrete pour, marking a vital advancement in this iconic venture.

Recalling the inaugural ceremony earlier this year on February 23rd, Commissioner Wells-Hedrington remarked, “Today’s foundational concrete layer symbolizes a considerable stride in the project. The fact that we’re establishing a fresh school in St. Croix District after so many years makes this achievement all the more special.”

Extending her heartfelt appreciation, the Commissioner applauded the concerted endeavors of every stakeholder in the initiative. “It’s long overdue that our students are gifted with state-of-the-art educational infrastructures,” she emphasized. This remarkable endeavor witnessed the collaborative efforts of many, notably the New Schools Construction Advisory Board, MCN Build, the DLR Group, Witt O’Brien’s, the Office of Disaster Recovery, FEMA, VITEMA, VIHFA, the Department of Public Works, and several diligent members from the Department of Education, including the esteemed Architect Chaneel Callwood-Daniels.

Tracing back to 2017, the former Arthur A. Richards Jr. High School faced extensive damage due to the ravaging impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which led to its eventual demolition. As a testament to resilience and advancement, the newly envisioned school comes with a whopping budget of $163 million and is spread across an expansive 145,000 sq. ft., occupying the previous premises of Evelyn M. Williams Elementary School.

Commissioner Wells-Hedrington further shed light on the holistic vision behind this endeavor. “It’s more than just a rebuild. We’re paving the way for a transformative educational journey, understanding the deep impact a conducive environment has on molding our future torchbearers,” she articulated. “With this, we’re redefining the benchmarks for 21st-century educational spaces in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

MCN Build, the principal design-build contractor, recently unveiled the school’s progressive blueprint, set to be rolled out in three distinct phases:

  • Phase 1: Encompasses the Utility building, a multipurpose gym, a dedicated PreK section, and a common gathering space.
  • Phase 2: Focuses on two primary education structures, K-5 Building A & B, accompanied by the central Administrative unit.
  • Phase 3: Wrapping up the project, this phase will see the 6-8 middle school edifice, extensive landscaping, hard landscaping, and an all-inclusive field.

In a bid to ensure sustainability, the school is slated to house a subterranean cistern with a massive 250,000-gallon capacity, bolstered by protective retaining walls towards the property’s west and northwest perimeters. The next pivotal step on the horizon? Setting the groundwork for the utility building.

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Disaster Recovery

Ongoing Recovery Efforts in the USVI Highlighted at Public Finance Authority Meeting

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Six years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the US Virgin Islands in September 2017, the territory’s reconstruction journey continues. At a recent Public Finance Authority (PFA) meeting, updates from various agencies underscored the progress and challenges in the extensive recovery efforts.

The Office of Disaster Recovery, tasked with managing the multi-billion dollar federal aid for the territory’s rebuilding projects, has reported significant strides. As of February, more than $3.2 billion has been spent out of an obligated $10 billion. The agency is racing to ensure all Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) projects are obligated by year-end to take advantage of more favorable matching funds requirements set to expire soon. A noteworthy advancement is the recent groundbreaking of the Charles “Tappy” Seales Fire Station and Multipurpose Center.

Stephan Adams, CEO of V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN), highlighted the particular challenges of funding hurricane restoration projects. He emphasized the strategic management of grants based on available cash flows due to uncertainties in securing matching funds. Adams pointed out the critical importance of protecting the inter-island fiber optic cables’ landing points. “These points are crucial. Any damage there, and St. Thomas could face significant connectivity issues if we see disruptions on St. Croix,” he explained. Despite financial hurdles, Adams reassured that viNGN is committed to using operating funds to prioritize this essential project.

Furthermore, Adams provided updates on broader viNGN initiatives, including the hardening of 24 small roadside buildings that house the network’s communication equipment. These upgrades involve replacing generators and enhancing overall resilience against future storms. He ambitiously aims to complete the majority of viNGN’s FEMA-related projects within the year.

The PFA meeting also touched on tourism recovery. Anthony Ottley, CEO of the West Indian Company (WICO), reported a considerable increase in cruise ship arrivals in 2023 compared to pandemic-affected years. However, figures still lag behind pre-hurricane levels, partly due to the departure of some cruise lines from the port. Ottley remains optimistic, projecting that arrival numbers will normalize next year and announced plans to commence harbor dredging in 2025 to accommodate larger cruise ships, pending federal approvals.

These updates reflect a determined and multifaceted approach to recovery and rebuilding in the US Virgin Islands, signaling a resilient and forward-moving community despite past adversities.

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Disaster Recovery

Progress Reported in USVI’s Hurricane Recovery Efforts

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More than two years have passed since Hurricanes Irma and Maria unleashed their fury on the US Virgin Islands in September 2017, leaving a trail of destruction. The territory’s path to recovery was the focus of a recent Public Finance Authority (PFA) meeting where various agencies reported on the strides being made in rebuilding efforts.

The Office of Disaster Recovery, tasked with managing the influx of federal dollars for restoration projects, highlighted significant progress. As of February, it has spent over $3.2 billion of the $10 billion committed to these projects. A critical goal for the agency is to secure obligations for all remaining Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) projects by year’s end, to capitalize on more favorable matching fund requirements set to expire soon.

One of the major undertakings mentioned was the Charles “Tappy” Seales Fire Station and Multipurpose Center, which began construction recently.

Stephan Adams, CEO of V.I. Next Generation Network (viNGN), shared insights into the unique challenges faced by his agency, particularly in securing funding. Despite these hurdles, viNGN prioritizes essential projects, such as fortifying the points where inter-island fiber optic cables land. “The resilience of our network is paramount. Damage to these landing points could incapacitate the island of St. Thomas if similar issues arise on St. Croix,” Adams explained, emphasizing the critical nature of these projects.

Adams also detailed efforts to strengthen the infrastructure that supports the islands’ communications systems. This includes enhancing 24 small buildings along the roadsides that house communication equipment, upgrading generators, and bolstering their overall storm resilience.

During the meeting, PFA members were updated on the tourism sector’s status by Anthony Ottley, CEO of West Indian Company (WICO). He noted that while cruise ship arrivals have surged in 2023, numbers still lag behind pre-hurricane figures due to some lines discontinuing visits to the port. Ottley remains optimistic, projecting that arrivals should stabilize by next year. Additionally, WICO is preparing for a major dredging project to deepen the harbor for larger vessels, with work expected to commence in 2025 pending federal clearance.

This assembly underscored the complex yet hopeful journey of recovery for the USVI, as stakeholders across the board continue to work diligently towards restoring and improving the resilience of the territory’s infrastructure.

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Disaster Recovery

St. Croix to Enhance Emergency Services with New Charles “Tappy” Seales Fire Station

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On April 12, St. Croix took a significant step forward in public safety and emergency readiness with the groundbreaking of the new Charles “Tappy” Seales Fire Station and Multipurpose Center. This event, graced by Governor Albert Bryan Jr., Senate President Novelle Francis, and other notable figures, signals the start of a major initiative to rebuild five fire stations across the territory, financed through FEMA’s disaster recovery grant programs.

Located at its original site in Estate Grove Place, the planned facility promises enhanced capabilities, including a dedicated space for a VIPD officer and a multi-purpose saferoom that will serve as a storm shelter for fire and EMS personnel. Funded by a substantial allocation from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the project underscores the territory’s commitment to strengthening its infrastructure against potential disasters.

Governor Bryan emphasized the critical importance of the new fire station, stating, “Providing the VIFEMS with this new and improved fire station not only promises more effective emergency planning but also enhances our ability to save lives—a definitive benefit for the entire community.”

Adrienne L. Williams-Octalien, director of the Office of Disaster Recovery, outlined the extensive federal support for the initiative, with over $53 million earmarked for the territory-wide fire station replacements, including $6.8 million allocated for this specific facility.

The event also served to commemorate the late VIFEMS Director Daryl A. George Sr., whose dedication to the project was celebrated. Senate President Novelle Francis highlighted that this is the first fire station constructed post-Act 8545, which in April 2022 merged fire and emergency medical services under the VIFEMS umbrella.

VIFEMS Director Designee Antonio Stevens expressed gratitude towards all stakeholders involved, including the Office of Disaster Recovery, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, the V.I. Police Department, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Property and Procurement, and contractors such as Jaredian Design Group, LLC, Marco St. Croix, and Persons Services Corp.

Slated for completion in Fall 2025, the Charles “Tappy” Seales Fire Station and Multipurpose Center aims to be a cornerstone of enhanced safety and emergency preparedness for the community of St. Croix.

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