After years of students having to trek from St. John to St. Thomas via commercial ferry to secure an education, Governor John P. deJongh Jr. said Friday that there is growing support in Washington for an Administration proposal which would facilitate the construction of a new school on St. John, while also addressing some of the Administration’s initiatives with respect to agriculture and tourism.
“As I stated last week, there remains a real need for a definitive solution to the issue of building a new school on St. John; a solution that focuses on what is best for our children on St. John, but also could be a vehicle with a territory-wide impact”, deJongh said. DeJongh went on to say that he has worked since the beginning of 2007 to develop an approach which would achieve several objectives but has as its core objective the identification of land on St. John to make a new school a reality. “While the climate in Washington, D.C. clearly suggests that the long term lease arrangement with the National Park Service is not feasible, it does not mean we cannot use our cooperative relationship with the National Park on this issue to come up with a solution that builds on our existing partnership, especially as we have undoubtedly demonstrated to them our commitment to identify land for a new school.”
DeJongh said he is proud to have had support in the U.S. Senate for his solution, primarily from Senators John D. Rockefeller and Orrin Hatch and is happy to see growing support for this initiative. “Senators Rockefeller and Hatch agree with my Administration’s concept that this proposal is the most realistic and that we must continue to work towards a solution.”
“As many people in the public are already aware, Senator Hatch has submitted legislation to have the National Park Service, in partnership with the Government of the Virgin Islands, acquire the approximately 115 acres of privately owned land in Estate Grange on St. Croix on which Alexander Hamilton lived during his years as a St. Croix resident," said deJongh.
It is contemplated that this land will become a national park commemorating Alexander Hamilton as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. At the same time, the current owner of the property, the Armstrong Trust, has executed a short-term lease with V.I. Farmers Cooperative for approximately 30-40 acres to further the agricultural industry on St. Croix, an initiative that my Administration is supporting. Simultaneously, Senator Rockefeller, based on his family’s historic ties to St. John and the National Park Service, has encouraged the National Park Service to work with us on a solution that is in everyone’s best interest.
“Our solution involves working with the Department of Interior, the National Park Service, the Delegate to Congress, the Armstrong Trust, and bringing in the Trust for Public Lands, to leverage the acreage of the Estate Grange property in St. Croix to enable the Government and Trust for Public Lands purchase the property, set aside some of the acreage for agricultural purposes, and then enter into a deed agreement with the National Park Service for some of the property to be part of the National Park system, while it deeds some property in Estate Catherineberg on St. John as the site and future locale for a St. John School," deJongh said. "The key partner is the Trust for Public Lands which has worked with our government, the Delegate and the National Park Service to preserve the Marsh land on St. John.”
The initial feedback on the Governor’s proposal has been very positive and comes at a time when it is much needed.
“This approach will produce another tourist attraction and historic site on St. Croix, will add 30-40 acres of agricultural land to our St. Croix inventory while implementing a worthwhile program with the farmers, and also delivers us the long-needed land on St. John for the new school," deJongh said. It is very upsetting when we hear stories of young school-aged children having to be on the Cruz Bay dock in the pre-dawn hours of each weekday to catch a ferry, ply the waters of Pillsbury Sound and once on St. Thomas, walk about a half a mile to the campus of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School for classes. The children of St. John deserve nothing less and I will not waver in the commitment I made in 2007 to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the construction of a new and modern school on St. John."
The governor’s plan is an example of a Virgin Islands Government, United States Government and private entity collaboration which will support the announced desire to further both education and agriculture in the Territory and also assist the United States in preserving its historical interests.