A St. Croix nonprofit called the Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts, Inc. is seeking an initial $1.5 million, of the total $10 million needed, for their grassroots effort to open a vocational school for those interested in art, historical preservation, culture, construction and architecture in the historic town of Christiansted.
Representatives from the nonprofit presented the center’s vision to create an urban campus and education lab during an interagency think tank hosted on Friday as part of Caribbean Brownfields Virtual Week. The event brought together professionals in both government and private sectors to support the recovery and redevelopment of the U.S. Caribbean.
The center has a long road ahead to acquire the necessary funding to revamp the proposed site, a structural relic called the “Old Barracks,” and turn it into a college that will spur skilled trade, jobs and business opportunities. But the goal of the virtual conference was for the center to garner insight from federal agencies as to how to secure funding, open the college and begin the “socioeconomic revival of Christiansted.”
“St. Croix and the entire U.S. Virgin Islands is in a period of transition,” the center’s pre-recorded presentation said. “The socioeconomic structure that provided stability and prosperity in the latter half of the 20th century has eroded and new approaches are needed to reinvigorate and reenergize the environment and the community that lives and thrives there.”
To reinvigorate the economy, the center plans to create educational opportunities that are outside of the University of the Virgin Islands and caters to students interested in architecture, construction, small business development and entrepreneurship.
“By producing graduates who can do metalwork, masonry, woodwork, painting, carpentry, cabinet making and draftsmanship necessary to rehabilitate Virgin Islands towns and other construction projects across the islands, VIAC will play an important role in revitalization,” the presentation said.
Leading the think tank was public management guru David Southgate who said the nonprofit’s first step would be “to start verifying the environmental conditions on that site prior to jumping in and acquiring it, as well as beginning to develop it.”
Terry Wesley, who attended the conference representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 2, said the agency would be able to lend the nonprofit contract support free of charge as part of a grant the agency offers and a “technical assessment to help that institute move forward.”
Other potential stakeholders and partners shared a plethora of ideas and pined over the vision of a bustling vocational school that was historically conscious and environmentally forward-thinking, including the V.I. State Historic Preservation Commission Director Sean Krigger, who said the center “will answer a need we clearly have for skilled artisans to work on the restoration of our historic buildings.”
While the territory has some talented craftsmen, he said, there is a greater need for more.
Krigger said the commission could offer technical assistance for the program and potentially some funding, though the commission’s fiscal abilities are limited.
Representatives of the National Park Service contributed to the think tank as well, explaining that the National Park Service provides funding from the Historic Preservation Fund through the V.I. Historic Preservation Office, which could potentially provide a kickstart to the grassroots undertaking.
U.S. Economic Development Administration representative Janelle Schindler said, “It’s a great project … there are many, many ways that the U.S. Economic Development Administration can support this.”
Schindler said there is funding available through the Economic Adjustment Assistance Program.
“We can certainly look at multiple ways to fund portions of this project under the Economic Adjustment,” she said, adding that the administration could provide local and technical assistance.
The conference buzzed as support grew for the project. While no firm timeline has been set, the center is now poised to begin applying for grants.
Southgate concluded the conference by informing attendees that seed money had been donated by various eager and interested parties to help with the undertaking.
“We know it’s possible,” Southgate said. “We need to train people for the preservation of these historic buildings in the U.S. Caribbean because they are part of the fabric and history of our communities.”