One Campus Meets with Friends, Makes of Interior on Quest for School Land

The One Campus group continued to pursue its goal of moving the Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay last month with a letter to the Secretary of the Interior and a meeting with Friends of the V.I. National Park officials.

One Campus members invited the Secretary of the Interior to come to St. John and explore the possibility of creating a mid-island school at Number 6 Estate Catherineberg, a 55-acre parcel of land which was deeded to the V.I. National Park in 1968 by its owner, Ethel May Bishop, who died in March 2006.

“The members drafted a letter inviting the Secretary of the Interior to come down and meet with us locally in the hopes we could get some sort of resolution to obtaining the lease,” said Cox. “We haven’t heard back yet, as we sent the letter just two weeks ago.”

The Wednesday evening, August 1, meeting with the Friends of the V.I. National Park was very productive according to both sides.

“We pretty much had a meeting of the minds — we gave them the information we’ve been working on and they provided some valuable information,” said Cox. “It was very successful, and we are very thrilled with the feeling we all had when we walked out of the meeting. There are good things to come.”

Disagreement on How to Obtain Land
While One Campus and the Friends agree that a new school is needed, they are still not in agreement on how to achieve it

— One Campus is pushing for the VINP to allow the 55-acre parcel to be leased, while the Friends believe a land swap is in the Park’s best interest, explained Friends Executive Director Joe Kessler.

“That really is our major difference,” said Kessler. “We believe the swap is the best alternative, and we have concerns about the lease. We understand their view, and I think there’s a lot we can work on together, even despite that fundamental difference.”

While the Friends of the VINP supports the need for a new school, the amount of land needed should be researched more thoroughly, and the quality of education should be considered, explained Kessler.

“I think both the Park and others have been kind of arbitrary in deciding how much land is needed,” he said. “To me, it’s very much a technical question, and experts in that field should be determining what the needs are. The big question, regardless of whether the school moves or not, is the quality of education.”

“There’s no question that a new facility is helpful, but it still doesn’t solve the fundamental issues of how to improve the quality of education,” Kessler added.

Whether St. John’s school-age population will continue to grow to justify building a new school should also be taken into consideration, according to Senator Basil Ottley.

Despite the challenges they face, the One Campus group remains optimistic in its mission.

“We’ve put a lot of energy into this,” said One Campus member Steve Black. “I think overall the lease is a win-win thing. I think the glass is more than half full, that’s my feeling.”

Population Growth Should be Studied
“Let’s gather the statistics so we can properly evaluate what the future needs would be before making that investment,” said Ottley. “We need to have a better sense of how our population is growing, so that we don’t build something that doesn’t meet the needs and the vision of where we’re going.”

Without affordable housing, it’s unlikely that teachers will be able to afford to live on St. John, Ottley continued.

“We have to consider that if we don’t do something to bring affordable housing to St. John and expand the economic opportunities there, we’re going to create a situation where teachers won’t be able to afford to live on St. John,” he said.

“Who is going to be living on St. John in the next few years if we don’t make sure we continue to make it a viable community where we can have a very diverse population? That’s the most important thing for us to consider — we have to be proactive and cognizant of the planning of where the community is going.”