Sen. Angel L. Bolques, Jr. received updates from the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation about their projects, programs, and facilities during the Committee on Culture, Youth, Aging, Sports, and Parks on Friday.
Calvert White, the commissioner of the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation, testified that the Department has received over $30 Million in Federal Emergency Management Agency grant funding for hurricane recovery projects.
Among the key projects, the Vincent Mason Pool project is making progress. The old pool was demolished because the foundation needed to be revisited. The cost of the project increased to $5 million after new piles were added to enhance the newer foundation.
In terms of construction and cost, FEMA concluded that no repairs or upgrades to the exterior and interior should be made and instructed DSPR to build a new concession stand in a different location to ensure the historical preservation of the original Cramer’s Park concession was maintained. Assistance from the V.I. State Historic Preservation Officer came in the amount of $1.6 million to build a new concession at a new location.
Regarding White’s testimony about contractors rebuilding the pavilions at Cramer’s Park beach, Sen. Franklin D. Johnson posed a question concerning his recent visit to the area. Inquiring why the department decided to demolish all of the pavilions and close off the entire area instead of rebuilding them one by one and leaving the remainder of the area accessible to the public, Johnson went on to ask what was the overall purpose.
White responded that it was the contractor’s call to determine the safest route for reconstruction. Although there is fencing, some areas require more precautions for the overall well-being of the public. Closing off the entire area was the better judgment call.
While on the subject of the beaches, senators’ questions regarding the number of lifeguards came into discussion due to the increase in the number of drownings throughout the territory.
There are a total of eight lifeguards on St. Croix and one on St. Thomas, with five open vacancies for the St. Thomas district. White also stated that it is very difficult to find qualified people to fill the vacancies and the department is utilizing their swimming classes to assist in recruitment efforts. The overall exam to become a lifeguard is so intense that during one of the previous exams, one of the candidates themselves required assistance, according to White.
Among the pressing concerns from senators, Sen. Diane T. Capehart inquired about the potential sand shortage due to climate change and suggested that the department looks into logging the receding sand to potentially add to their future infrastructure needs. Bolques suggested looking into planting vegetation to naturally assist with the depletion of sand to cut cost if there were any.
With a total of 51 DSPR FEMA projects and upcoming summer camps, White has his hands full. Projects such as Emile Griffith Ballpark are expecting new fencing, a batting cage, a scoreboard, renovations to the bathroom, new bleachers, a new press box, an LED lighting system, a revamped storage area, and a new office for the staff and afterschool area. The renovations are expected to be completed by September 2023.
Among the other facilities and ballparks to receive renovations and updates are the Kerwin Terrace Ballpark and the Alvin McBean facility.
Facilities on St. Croix that have been completed are the Isaac Boynes Ballfield, the Emile Henderson Basketball Court, and Rudy Krigger Sports Complex.
White said the Department is in the final stages of the contracting phase of the Reinholdt Jackson project. DC Canegata Recreational Complex fields will get new fence work, a new scoreboard on the bigger field, roof work on the seating area, and LED lighting systems. The recreation center will see hazard mitigation wind retrofit to strengthen the building and will get a generator.
Throughout the territory, resurfacing and restriping of tennis, basketball, and paddle ball courts have been done. With contractors returning next week, more projects will be moving forward.
Over on St. John, The Winston Wells Ballfield is currently being used by the Education Department for modular classrooms, and once returned to DSPR, repairs will take place.
Once completed, the Recreational Center in Cruz Bay will be utilized as a community safe room.
With summertime right around the corner and a slue of holidays to follow, Bolques asked about the redevelopment of the St. Corix Randall “Doc” James Horse Track.
Following not too far behind was Sen. Johnson also inquiring about the allotted $150,000 to the Department for equipment and maintenance for the track.
According to White, VIGL submitted modification applications earlier this month and is currently under review with DPNR Coastal Zone Management Department. Regarding the allotted funding since the track was taken away from the Department, they have not since requested the funding, and the employees to maintain the track have since resigned. Once the track is back under the Department’s purview they would then request the funding needed for maintenance and employment.
Bolques said, ”This has left horse racing in limbo in the territory.”
Troy de Chabert Schuster, the State Director of AARP Virgin Islands gave testimony that “One-fifth of the population is aged 50 and older. According to a recent United States Census, by 2030, the number of seniors is expected to exceed the number of children in the United States.”
“AARP has collaborated with legislators and administrators to implement policy changes intended to impact the lives of the aging population. AARP Virgin Islands advocated for the passage of a bill establishing the Commission of Aging within the Office of the Governor to help plan, promote and execute programs to meet present and future needs of aging in the territory, which was a bill supported by members of the Committee,” said de Chabert Schuster.
According to testimony, AARP lobbied for legislation to enhance COVID-19 response and recovery efforts to assist seniors and caregivers. Their triumphs included a bill to establish the Nurse Licensure Compact for the Virgin Islands that would create a multistate nursing license allowance for nurses seeking employment in the territory to address the staffing shortages; and a bill modernizing online documents permitting Electronic Wills and Remote Notaries as legal documents, providing access to essential services during social distance restrictions.
AARP Virgin Islands is advocating for support of legislation that would create public-private management retirement savings for businesses. The management would help workers to grow their retirement savings after a recent poll conducted showed that many citizens are not prepared for retirement.
Focusing on long-term affordable care, AARP Virgin Islands has also prioritized increasing health care options and access to care through home-based services, including supporting telehealth, tax incentives, increased funding to the Medicaid program, and recruitment incentives for bedside care providers.
“AARP Virgin Islands is also focused on protecting seniors from fraud and abuse. AARP Virgin Islands has lobbied for changes to the USVI Elder Dependent Abuse & Prevention Act of 2008. This has included support for changes to the Adult Protective Services statutes related to their authority to substantiate claims of mistreatment of an at-risk adult, support for an Adult Abuse registry system, and mandatory criminal background reports for all healthcare providers, including home health aides” said de Chabert Schuster.
Sens. Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marvin A Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Diane T. Capehart, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Franklin D. Johnson were present during Friday’s session.