STJ Long Term Recovery Team Looks at Shelters and Clinic

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St. John residents gather at the V.I. National Park Visitors Center to hear about projects planned for the island.

St. John’s Long Term Recovery Team pinpointed possible public hurricane shelters and updated progress on the repair of the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic, among other issues, at its Thursday meeting.

Hurricane shelters: Emergency response team members have identified two possible public hurricane shelters, one in Cruz Bay and one in Coral Bay. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, located a short distance up Centerline Road from Cruz Bay, could be easily modified to meet standards to qualify, officials said. The John’s Folly Learning Center could be “hardened” to serve as a shelter for the Coral Bay community.

St. John residents became concerned when Tropical Storm Isaac approached the Caribbean earlier in September and Virgin Islands government officials announced that no shelters were available on St. John. St. John residents were advised to go to shelters on St. Thomas if the storm watch was announced.

Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic: Contractors are completing interior work at the clinic, which was closed following Hurricane Irma but has since been replaced with modular units.

“From what I’ve been told, they’re [installing] cabinets and information technology,” said Dr. Joseph De James. Once the work has been completed, the new clinic will have to pass an inspection by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service. De James said they were hoping for an October opening date.

Julius E. Sprauve School: No officials from the Department of Education attended Thursday’s meeting, but newly-rehired industrial arts instructor Kurt Marsh said the new modular units “are a lot nicer than what we’re used to.” Marsh said teachers were settling into their new spaces while they were teaching.

Of the six schools in the territory that were supposed to hold classes in modular classrooms, only JESS opened at its scheduled date.

St. Thomas-St. John District Superintendent Dionne Wells-Hedrington told Marsh earlier this week that the DOE plans to put together a panel “to discuss the where, when and how” of constructing a new school on St. John. Wells-Hedrington will reach out to community members to assist with the planning, Marsh said.

Marsh said he recently received a $25,000 grant to equip his new industrial arts classroom with digital fabrication programs.

“We’re re-imagining the entire program,” he said.

Youth and Community Centers: Celia Kalousek of the St. John Community Foundation said island community organizations were exploring funding to construct community centers that would serve island youth as well as function as emergency shelters in the event of a storm.

The SJCF assisted the Julius E. Sprauve School with the application for grants amounting to $250,000 a year to fund after-school academic, arts, and sports programs through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. Full funding would be available for three years with a possible two-year extension. Editor’s Note: This paragraph has been corrected to represent that JESS would be the recipient of the grants. SJCF only assisted with the grant application.

New GIS System: The St. John Community Foundation announced the continued development of a new Geographic Information System that will assist first responders as well as planners.

“We’re now using it to zoom in and get photos for road projects and to improve walkability,” said Kalousek. “The expansion of this technology is limitless.”

St. John Strategic Recovery Plan: Kalousek said FEMA planner Beth Otto, who had been deployed to St. John but has been transferred, has served a critical role in planning 34 projects in three categories – recovery projects, disaster resilience projects, and community development projects. Copies of the report outlining these projects will be available at Connections, the St. John Community Foundation office, and the Coral Bay Community Council.

Projects include increased access to mental health services, construction of affordable housing, developing recycling facilities, improved storm water management, and promoting the Cruz Bay Historic District.

Sustainability Center: Harith Wickrema of Island Green Living Association announced the non-profit organization is seeking applicants for two positions to staff its sustainability center, which is still in the planning stage.

Coral Bay Fire Station: Bids have been submitted to complete work at the Coral Bay Fire Station, according to St. John Deputy Chief Ernest Matthias. Selection will take place in October, and Matthias said he hoped work would be completed prior to Election Day.

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