CBCC Suggests Musuem, Community Center for East End School

To the St. John Community:

Everyone in Coral Bay was surprised when a notice for bid was put in the newspapers in August for a construction project to build a Lt. Governor’s and dignitaries’ retreat at the old East End Schoolhouse. The cost of construction will be $820,000.

Every neighborhood has a special place. This schoolhouse is East End’s special place. Several of the residents of this small community of less than 60 people went to school here, including Miss Vie and Mr. Sullivan, “Sully” to all who know him. Noted local resident and author, Guy Benjamin, also went to school there and wrote about his pleasant days of ball playing with a bit of education thrown in. In recent decades, part of the site was converted to a part-time Lt. Governor’s residence until it was damaged in Hurricane Marilyn.

The new plans in 2006 will dramatically change the use and memories of the site. The old schoolhouse will be almost hidden from sight by the three new buildings added around it and the old cistern. Two buildings will hold bedrooms and one will be a dining pavilion and living room.

For many years East Enders have dreamed of making the schoolhouse into a small museum, commemorating the local history and people. There is even an entire book written about this unique community: Creole Transformation from Slavery to Freedom, by Douglas V. Armstrong, who conducted archeological investigations in the 1990s. Here’s what this historian says about the schoolhouse:

“The East Enders lobbied their church for a school of their own and were rewarded with the construction of the East End school, dedicated on April 21, 1862. The school would provide a shoreline gathering point for the community and became a multifunctional facility used for educational and religious practice as well as community gatherings.”

He further points out that the cistern was built in 1906 with funds raised from an island-wide appeal for funds to provide a safe community water supply which further facilitated the importance of the school.

In 1870, there were 35 children enrolled at the school, with names such as Charles J. Sewer, Lorenbrina George, Sarah Oneal, Mary Smith and John R. Sullivan.

Despite the strong local feelings about this site, the Public Finance Authority and the VI Government did not involve the people of the East End and St. John in planning the use of the site at any point in the two-plus years of their own internal planning activities. The people of St. John did not get to voice any opinion on how the historic preservation funds earmarked for St. John would be spent. We want to make that input now before any work commences at the East End site.

How do the people of St. John benefit from this project? There are other choices for prioritizing this money that would make more sense for St. John.

For instance — how about using a small amount of the funds to rehabilitate the East End School to its 1860s style as a museum and as an outdoor community gathering place? The rest of the funds could be used to rehabilitate another St. John Historic structure as a more centrally located meeting space, such as the Bay Rum factory site in Coral Bay, or another site that the public will bring forth if given a chance. The people of St. John and East End need a voice in spending government funds on St. John, just as they historically had when the school house was built making the choices and choosing the purposes. The people of the East End should have the same say today that they had in the 1860s about the facilities to be developed there.

We will be asking government officials to join us in a meeting to discuss this project and better alternatives. We ask all St. Johnians to join us in reminding the Public Finance Authority and the government that we all want to be involved in prioritizing the projects that are right for St. John and choosing how the very limited funds St. John gets for infrastructure are spent. If you would like to help, please call 776-2099 or email coralbaycommunitycouncil@hotmail.com.

For the Coral Bay Community Council Board and Members,
Sharon Coldren, President