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Disaster Recovery

St. Croix Community Expresses Concern Over Unused Lumber at Alexander Henderson Elementary

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In a recent community gathering on St. Croix, locals raised their concerns with Government House representatives about an untouched stack of lumber that has been sitting at the Alexander Henderson Elementary School since 2018. This material, seen by many as a valuable asset for repairing homes ravaged by hurricanes, has remained unused due to binding federal regulations.

The town hall, held last Wednesday, echoed with the voices of Virgin Islanders who expressed the hurdles they face in securing necessary funding and materials to rebuild their houses after the destructive 2017 hurricane season. A focal point of their grievances was the untouched lumber at the now-inoperative Alexander Henderson Elementary School, a structure that bore the brunt of Hurricane Maria’s fury.

Phillipa Smith-Tyler, a local resident, voiced her observations, stating, “These stacks of wood at the school remain untouched and unused. Many in the community would greatly benefit from using this material to restore their hurricane-stricken homes.”

However, this isn’t a straightforward issue. Governor Albert Bryan shed light on the complexities surrounding the unused material. He explained that the past government had acquired this lumber with plans of re-roofing the school. Yet, when FEMA rejected the intended roofing plan, the strategy was shifted to HUD CDBG. Bryan further elucidated that this lumber is considered federal property since it was purchased with federal funds. He emphasized, “We can’t simply distribute or discard this wood without repercussions. Doing so would obligate us to reimburse the federal government.” He further highlighted that the wood was transferred to the school’s premises after previously incurring rental fees at another storage location. Responsibility for this lumber rests with the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.

Karl Knight, the governor’s Chief of Staff, later provided a more optimistic update, stating that FEMA has now green-lighted a full replacement for the Alexander Henderson Elementary School.

The conversation also drifted to another contentious topic: the Good Hope School. Currently in a dilapidated state, efforts to rejuvenate the school have been stalled due to internal conflicts within its governing board. Governor Bryan hinted at the potential of government intervention, stating, “The Good Hope School holds promise. We see its potential as a training center, among other uses.” He indicated that preliminary talks are in progress with the board regarding a possible governmental takeover. Mr. Knight supported this view, suggesting that the Good Hope School might be an ideal candidate for a proposed initiative targeting abandoned and derelict structures.

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Disaster Recovery

2025 Marks the Anticipated Reopening of the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute

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In a significant step forward for healthcare in the region, the Territorial Hospital Redevelopment Team announced plans for the reopening of the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute (CKCI) by September 2025. Darryl Smalls, the Executive Director for Facilities and Corporate Development, shared the progress report with the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services.

During the committee meeting on Wednesday, Smalls detailed the milestones already achieved in the CKCI project. Notable among these was the groundbreaking event on November 4, followed by the commencement of construction work in March, under the stewardship of J Benton Construction LLC. The project, valued at over $29 million, benefits significantly from a FEMA grant aimed at replacing essential equipment lost to hurricanes. Thanks to updated FEMA guidelines, the agency will cover nearly the entire cost associated with this equipment replacement.

Contractors have made preliminary steps to ensure the construction area is secure and have begun the process of making CKCI a standalone entity by disconnecting it from the Schneider Regional Medical Center. This initial phase is critical to the project’s overall timeline and success.

The update was met with cautious optimism by lawmakers. Senator Milton Potter expressed concern over the project’s ambitious timeline, reflecting a common sentiment among his colleagues. Despite these reservations, Smalls reassured the committee of the contractor’s capabilities and downplayed concerns over the construction phase. However, he acknowledged potential delays in procuring essential items and equipment due to complex global supply chains.

Another point of discussion was the institute’s staffing strategy for its 2025 reopening. Smalls highlighted ongoing efforts by the leadership team to address this challenge, ensuring the institute will be adequately staffed upon completion.

As the CKCI project progresses, it represents a beacon of hope for improved cancer care and treatment facilities in the region, despite the hurdles of logistics and staffing that lie ahead.

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Disaster Recovery

New High-Level Executive Position Announced for USVI’s Super PMO as Part of Rebuild Initiative

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The Office of Disaster Recovery (ODR) is set to enhance the Rebuild USVI initiative with the creation of a Super Project Management Office (Super PMO). This new office aims to streamline the coordination among contractors, government agencies, and other crucial stakeholders in the reconstruction efforts, as unveiled by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. earlier this year. To lead this ambitious subdivision, the ODR is on the hunt for an executive delivery manager, a position that promises an annual salary exceeding $185,000 in reflection of the expertise and leadership demanded.

Adrienne Williams-Octalien, the Director of ODR, highlighted during a recent Committee on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure and Planning meeting that the Super PMO is poised to adopt global best practices. Its core functions will encompass stakeholder coordination, prioritization of master projects, schedule management, and procurement. Furthermore, it aims to ensure resource balancing, program controls, compliance, expedited payment processing, as well as managing design and program risks. The establishment of the Super PMO is expected to yield multiple advantages, such as economies of scale, shortened acquisition cycles, and enhanced opportunities for local small businesses.

Addressing the operational challenges, Williams-Octalien pointed out the limitations of the Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) in handling acquisitions of significant scale and complexity. Despite these hurdles, the DPP is slated to play a crucial support role, focusing on the procurement of locally and federally funded goods and services outside the Super PMO’s scope.

The staffing needs for the Super PMO remain under assessment, with Williams-Octalien providing a candid response to Senator Milton Potter’s inquiry. Initial project bundles, including upgrades to medical facilities on St. Croix and several schools on St. Thomas, will dictate the immediate staffing requirements. The approach to scaling the workforce will be flexible, leveraging contracted labor as necessary to manage the expanding workload.

However, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory raised valid concerns regarding the feasibility of expanding the workforce efficiently under the current bureaucratic system. She urged for a pragmatic strategy that minimizes red tape to ensure the Super PMO’s successful implementation and progress in the USVI’s rebuilding efforts.

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Disaster Recovery

Revitalizing Community Spirit: Florence Augusta Stevens Williams Library to Welcome Visitors on April 9

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The heart of Christiansted’s communal and intellectual life, the Florence Augusta Stevens Williams Library, is poised to reopen its doors, rekindling the flames of curiosity and learning in St. Croix. After a period of reconstruction necessitated by the devastation of 2017’s hurricanes, this cherished institution celebrated its grand return with government dignitaries at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Established in December 1920 and named to honor the first Crucian-born librarian, the library encapsulates the legacy of Ms. Williams, an accomplished, multilingual scholar recognized for her profound knowledge of Caribbean and Latin American history. Over the decades, it has played a pivotal role in the island’s intellectual discourse, hosting an array of cultural and academic events.

Despite repeated challenges, including destruction by hurricanes Hugo, Marilyn, and the combined forces of Irma and Maria, the community’s resolve has seen the library rise anew. This latest restoration has not only revived the structure but has also introduced significant upgrades. According to Jean Pierre Oriol, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, enhancements include an advanced computer center and the digitization of resources for the visually impaired. A partnership with Danish archivists is bringing colonial archives into the digital era, expanding access to these precious documents.

Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. emphasized the multifaceted role of libraries beyond being mere repositories of books. He highlighted their function as community centers fostering civic engagement and preserving cultural and historical heritage. “A library,” he said, “is a sanctuary where imagination knows no bounds.”

Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach shared personal anecdotes of the library’s influence, recalling encounters with Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott and the vibrant exchange of ideas within its walls. “Libraries stand as pillars of civilization,” he remarked, underscoring their integral role in societal development.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. reflected on the broader societal benefits the library offers, particularly as a haven for the youth, fostering independence and community trust akin to past generations. He sees the library as a vital space for nurturing young minds in a rapidly modernizing world.

Mark your calendars for April 9, as the Florence Augusta Stevens Williams Library reopens, continuing its legacy from Tuesday to Saturday. While operational hours are pending, the promise of renewed community spirit and intellectual growth awaits all visitors.

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