Cruz Bay is slated to get a new recreation center that will double as an emergency storm shelter, thanks in part to a Community Development Block Grant.
The announcement was made at a public meeting held July 17 by officials of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority, which administers Community Development Block Grants funded through federal Housing and Urban Affairs 2019 Discretionary Grants.
In addition to building a new rec center, officials said funding had been allocated to establish a Boys and Girls Club on St. John, and to continue funding for two critical programs, including the island’s “Dial-A Ride” program and counseling services offered through the Family Resource Center.
Elroy Hill, director of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation on St. John, said plans for the new rec center have been submitted to the Department of Public Works for approval.
The plans call for the demolition of the existing rec center, which was heavily damaged by the hurricanes of 2017, and the adjacent Industrial Arts Building, which is no longer usable.
The Department of Education has signed a memorandum of understanding to cede the Industrial Arts Building – formerly part of the Julius E. Sprauve School – to Sports, Parks and Recreation, Hill said.
Once the two buildings have been demolished, a new two-story structure will be built on their combined footprint. Each level, measuring about 9,000 square feet, will be equipped with bathrooms. The lower level will contain an open space that can be used as a gym and a full kitchen where youngsters can be taught culinary arts skills. The upper level will include offices and meeting spaces. The building will have solar panels and a generator for energy independence and will be constructed to qualify as a hurricane shelter.
Currently, there are no structures on St. John that meet the national standards for a storm shelter. The Department of Human Services has announced that for the upcoming storm season, two emergency shelters for St. John have been identified; they are the cafeteria of the Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay and the community center at the Calabash Boom Apartments.
Sports, Parks and Recreation originally requested $2.5 million to construct the new rec center but received only $381,000 from the Block Grant program. The rest of the funding will come from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation program and the territory’s Public Finance Authority.
Hill recently received some additional good news – he now has the funds to hire two recreation leaders and a recreation officer. He has been the only person officially employed by the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation on St. John since former employee Shikima Jones-Sprauve took the post of island administrator last winter.
The youth of St. John will further benefit from the creation of a new after-school program managed by the Boys and Girls Club. John Eichner, who serves on the club’s advisory board, spoke on behalf of the program, which will serve as many as 50 youngsters aged 6 to 18. The program will be held at the Gifft Hill School starting this fall and will run from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Registration will begin in August for the new program, which will offer tutoring as well as activities to promote leadership, character development and healthy lifestyle choices. The program is an extension of the Boys and Girls Club, which has been established on St. Thomas for some time. The Block Grant program provided $17,979.50 of the funding needed for this program.
A program to provide transportation to as many as 130 seniors and disabled or disadvantaged residents of St. John, commonly known as “Dial-A Ride,” received $32,450 from the Block Grant program.
“In many instances, the transportation and support services provide the clients’ only access to basic necessities,” according to a description of the grant awards provided by the V.I. Housing Finance Administration.
The Community Development Block Grant program also will continue to fund a one-on-one counseling program for at-risk youth on St. John. The program received $30,000 as a public service project. Social worker Annette Small has been providing these services through the Family Resource Center for at least two years.