Senators and Residents Celebrate Opening of New Legislature Annex

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While offering remarks, Senator Louis Hill, below standing, confronted controversy which arose during the Legislature’s construction which he oversaw as Senate President of the 28th Legislature as current Senate President Ronald Russell, seated next to Hill, looks on.

About 100 residents, six sitting senators and two former senators celebrated the grand opening of the Legislature of the Virgin Islands’ St. John annex on Friday evening, February 3.

The pale yellow building had been a point of controversy during the more than 12 months of construction, as Senator Louis Hill pointed out in candid terms during the official opening ceremony.

“I was lambasted by a senator sitting here tonight who misguided the population about what we were doing in this building,” said Hill, who launched the project to construct a new St. John Legislature building when he was President of the 28th Legislature.

“I’m not being politically correct here,” said Hill. “I have waited to say this in public. There are people here who misguided this community without recourse.”

“I still have the emails from people who reacted to that misguided information telling me all sorts of nonsense,” said the senator.

Hill seemed to be pointing a finger at Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, who had circulated several photographs of the building during construction, which showed a lack of adequate public meeting space.

Despite the public elbow rubbing, the meeting site issue seemed to have been hammered out by last Friday, as the first floor of the new legislature building is slated for conversion into a public meeting space, explained Pamela Samuel, executive director of the V.I. Legislature.

“The lower level of this building is intended to be developed into a meeting site,” said Samuel. “The next level contains offices for the at Large Senator and visiting senators and the top floor here is the Legislative meeting hall,” said Samuel.

The Legislative hall is equipped with cameras capable of streaming hearings live on the local government TV channel, just like on St. Thomas and St. Croix, Samuel added.

Shawn Auguste singing the National Anthem and the Virgin Islands March.

The old St. John Legislature building, located next to St. John School of the Arts, was mold-infested and prone to flooding, according to Hill, the current senate vice president.

“When I took over as senate president many of the government buildings in the territory were in states of total disrepair,” he said. “The St. John building in particular was in the worst mess. The staff was working in mold; in a totally mold-infested building.”

“Whenever it rained, entire offices flooded completely like there was a river running through the building,” said Hill.
Thanks to property owner and landlord Robert O’Connor, a former Senator at Large, the government was able to secure use of the new legislature building at 1D Estate Cruz Bay as a new annex.

O’Connor also offered remarks during last week’s grand opening, as did former Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft, and Senators Hill, Jeanette Millin Young, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Terrence Nelson, Barshinger, St. John Administrator Leona Smith and Senate President Ronald Russell.

With construction of the stately building complete, the senators were in a mood for celebration, not solemnity, explained Russell.

“This is a happy moment for the Virgin Islands,” said the Senate President. “Tomorrow we deal with things that are sad. Tonight we are happy.”

“This is a wonderful edifice and this begins a new era of democracy in the territory,” he said. “Let’s be happy and enjoy this.”

Bethany Moravian Church Pastor Vankys Isaac led the crowd in a Litany for Blessing the building, Shawn Auguste sang the National Anthem and the V.I. March and Libya Callwood sang a moving and motivational a capella number during the ceremony as well.