After lots of talk and little action, the majority of funds for the Guy Benjamin School’s proposed cafetorium and community center were officially reprogrammed on Wednesday, March 21.
A total of $325,000 of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds was appropriated to GBS for the cafetorium in 2000. After no progress was made on the project for years, however, local agencies were in danger of losing the funds.
In all, the V.I. government was in danger of losing $4 million in unspent federal CDBG funds if no action was taken by August, the director of the Division of Capital and Development Planning, division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Laurence Joshua, told St. John Tradewinds in a recent interview.
A number of problems, from disagreements with the original architectural firm to finger pointing at Department of Education officials, delayed the much-touted project and prompted Joshua to recommend redirecting the money.
“The quickest project to get done is an acquisition,” Joshua said in the interview. “The Methodist Outreach Organization wants to buy a building for a purpose, which is a lot easier than trying to build one.”
During a legislative session on March 21, the full V.I. Senate approved reprogramming $250,000 from the GBS cafetorium project to a St. Thomas Methodist Outreach Center to purchase a building.
The reprogramming still leaves $100,000 for officials to complete plans for the GBS cafetorium and Joshua pledged additional funds for the Coral Bay public school project in the future.
“We don’t want to abolish the project,” Joshua said. “In next year’s grant, or the subsequent one, we would refund them.”
GBS officials vowed to continue to work on the much-needed cafetorium.
“I am going to still work on my end to see that the project is completed,” said GBS acting principal Dionne Wells. “The additional funds that were not reprogrammed could be used to get our planning process completed.”
School officials will re-apply for federal funds for the project, which is needed to replace the current outdated and leaky cafeteria, Wells added.
“If push comes to shove next year and the government doesn’t have the money they said they would have, we will re-apply for CDBG funds to actually get the funding for the construction,” Wells said.