Pictured above: Governor Mapp delivers his State of the Territory Address (SOTA) at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on January 30, 2017. Photos by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands.
ST. THOMAS — In his first major address of the year, Gov. Kenneth Mapp spelled out his efforts to advance the construction of a new public School for St. John. Taking a long evolving plan for a new school to the next level was one of five projects the governor said he would submit to the new presidential administration in Washington.
Mapp told lawmakers gathered in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall he believed that $32 million could be secured through an initiative to invest in America’s infrastructure.
“I want you to know that the new Administration has requested, and we have provided, a list of five major capital projects that may be included in the first phase of the President’s initiative to invest in America’s infrastructure,” Mapp said.
Funding for the St. John school was mentioned at the start of the governor’s address. The State of the Territory is formally presented to the Legislature at the start of the new year. It provides the governor an opportunity to assess what his administration has achieved in the previous year and shares a vision for accomplishments sought in the year to come.
A funding request for the school, at $32 million, was submitted for funding by the administration of President Donald Trump along with $30 million for expansion of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium project in Frederiksted and $30 million for reconstruction of the Queen Mary Highway on St. Croix.
The governor told lawmakers he was also asking the president for $80 million in infrastructure funds to continue a long term development project for Veteran’s Drive on St. Thomas. The fifth request, for $54 million, would go towards modernization of the Cyril E. King Airport, also on St. Thomas.
Information about the infrastructure program came to Mapp through a national association of governors, said Communications Director Cherie Munchez.
The details, however, appeared sketchy. Richard Motta, public relations officer to Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said he heard about the infrastructure funding program for the first time on Monday night.
Motta said one of his priorities on the following day was to research the program and obtain further details. “Last night was the first our office had heard of that,” Motta said Tuesday.
Additional information was also being sought about other St. John projects mentioned by the governor at the state of the territory speech. Centerline Road and Fish Bay Road made the list for 2017.
Expanded VITRAN bus service also got a mention. Officials at Public Works say St. John has the highest ridership for public transportation in the territory.
There was also talk of making a home for a police presence in Coral Bay. That mention came when Mapp spoke about the conversion of the former Guy Benjamin Elementary School into a community center.
“Partners in Hope Inc. has brought resources to assist in getting the facility reopened and now there is tutoring available. A reading program has been established for young learners and classes are being taught by the St. John School of the Arts. The Virgin Islands Police Department and the St. John Administrator will soon be opening offices at the site, making Guy Benjamin a true center of community activity on St. John,” Mapp said.
Kim Wild, director of the school of the arts said programs are now going on at that site. She described the education programs as programs that may still be in the planning stage.
So far, she said, 25 students were stopping into the Coral Bay center to learn tumbling and Tae Kwon Do.
“I’m hoping it will build a little more, once kids and parents get used to the idea that the school of the arts have classes,” Wild said. The governor’s spokeswoman said preparations are being made to allow for new activities at the center.
“The Guy Benjamin School is currently being used for community meetings and by the St. John School for the Performing Arts. The Island Administrator is completing their painting and maintenance with an estimated move in scheduled for mid February. The design team for the Police substation is working through necessary elements and modifications to finalize necessary plans for remodeling to facilitate the proper outfitting of the substation,” she said.