As the V.I. Government gets ready to give the historic East End School House a face lift to restore it to a Lieutenant Gover-nors retreat, residents in the remote Hansen Bay neighborhood are feeling left out.
The school building dates back to 1862, when the first structure was built by Moravian Church missionaries.
At the time it was built, the East End comprised about 14 percent of the population of St. John, but the school accounted for 36 percent of the students across the island, according to local historian Charles Pishko.
Built by Community
Shortly after the school was constructed, residents in the area built a community cistern. The Moravian Church raised funds and purchased the materials, but the citizens built the cistern themselves, Pishko explained.
The close-knit East End community, which included a number of advanced artisans and educators, eventually dispersed in the 20th century as access to St. Thomas and other goods and services became easier, according to the local historian.
Sometime around the 1950s the Moravian Church sold the school to the V.I. government and it eventually became the Lieutenant Governors St. John residence. The structure, which has been abandoned for a number of years, suffered damage from various storms, including Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.
This is the second time the V.I. Government has attempted to refurbish the building, Pishko explained.
Officials last attempted to renovate the structure under the administration of Governor Alexander Farrelly, who served from 1987 through 1995. A hue and cry from several people on the island resulted in the shelving of the project, Pishko said.
V.I. government officials seem serious this time around.
The project has been put out for bids, the V.I. Public Finance Authority (PFA) has allocated $860,000 for the renovations and plans have been drawn by Sphere Design of St. Thomas.
Residents only found out about the project when the pre-bid conference announcement was printed in a St. Thomas newspaper in August.
Its an historic building that historically served as the center of the community for the East End, said Terry McKoy, an East End resident. The building had a very prominent place in the East End history. I dont know how it became a government playhouse, but that is what it became over time.
Were disappointed that we werent asked what we would like to see out here, he added.
Ideal Museum Location
The historic structure should reflect St. Johns culture and the community of the East End, according to St. Johnian educator Guy Benjamin.
We would like to see whatever is happening with the East End School at any time because it is important to us to see if we can get a museum created out there, Benjamin said. A museum there would always be something of importance to the East End community and to the whole island.
We could create a resting place for what East End was and what we would like it to continue to be, as closely as possible, when we visit or think about it, Benjamin continued. It was a community where people lived together and looked out for each others interests.
That kind of thing is dying out on St. John and if it dies out, people will forget and not even realize that we have a culture which we would like to see remembered and celebrated, he added.
Taking Care of Property
Government officials, however, say they are simply taking care of their property as any landowner would.
If you got your house blown away, youd fix it, said Kent Bernier, director of the Public Finance Authority. Its not a concern for the public, its a matter of the government taking care of its property, which it has to.
Its a derelict property, he continued. Its not like its something new that needs public interest. In all fairness, the government is just taking care of its derelict property.
The building is close to the waterfront, and does not abide by the 50-foot Coastal Zone Management-required setback, according to Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren.
Government Should Respect Rules
I would like to see the government carefully abide by the Environmental Protection rules and abide by the 50-foot setback, she said. If anyone should respect that, the government should. Its disappointing to see that the government doesnt abide by these rules.
A number of residents in the area would like to see the building used as a community gathering place, Coldren explained.
The current plans for the building, however, would make large gatherings there impossible, she said.
The small school building and the cistern are the only historic structures at the building and these are slated for renovations. Later rooms that were added to the building are scheduled for demolition and new structures are planned to be constructed.
The building is now used only by goats and people engaged in illegal activity, according to McKoy.
Something Better Than Nothing
Were disappointed that we werent asked for our input, but we wont stand in the way of renovating the building, he said. Its a derelict building right now used only by goats and by people involved with running illegal aliens. Anything other than what it is right now would be an improvement.
Although the Public Finance Authority is funding the renovations, the project originated in the Lieutenant Governors office, according to Bernier.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Ricahards did not return phone calls from St. John Tradewinds requesting comment.