A core group of community activists, public school and V.I. National Park representatives met with Gov. Charles Turnbull on Wednesday afternoon, October 25, at the Battery to discuss plans to relocate the Julius E. Sprauve School out of Cruz Bay.
While Turnbull agreed St. John needs a new school, the National Park Service does not give land away for free, he explained.
“The National Park Service is not in the habit of giving away park land,” Turnbull said. “We will have to give them something. We can’t fool ourselves — it has to be an exchange.”
Hammer’s Farm Proposed
Officials had located a 10-acre parcel of land on Hammer’s Farm near Estate Catherineberg, as the future site of a K-12 educational and vocational complex, swimming pool, recreation fields and University of the Virgin Islands satellite program.
The plan included swapping off-shore cays owned by the V.I. Government in exchange for the 10-acre parcel.
Former V.I. National Park Superinten-dent Art Frederick wrote a letter to Senator at Large Craig Barshinger outlining the proposed land exchange, which stated the Hammer’s Farm land was not part of the original Deed of Gift from Laurance Rockefeller and therefore not subject to restrictions on the sale of the land.
Land included in Rockefeller’s 1956 Deed of Gift requires if the VINP gives up the land, in an exchange or sale, it reverts back to the original owner.
Pros and Cons
The Hammer’s Farm’s mid-island location makes it favorable for busing students from both Coral Bay and Cruz Bay; is relatively flat land, making it easier for construction purposes; and is located on the boundary of the VINP, reducing potential impacts on the park’s resources, according to Frederick’s letter.
Frederick also outlined disadvantages to the proposed land swap, which included the imbalance of acreage of off-shore cays and the Hammer’s Farm parcel. The V.I. Government-owned cays, Booby Rock, Perkins Cay and Whistling Cay, only comprise about three acres.
The V.I. Government would have to “come up with significantly more land to exchange for what will undoubtedly be 10 acres of very valuable VINP land,” wrote Frederick.
Although since his correspondence, dated September 15, Frederick has left his position with the VINP, the time is right to make a deal with the NPS, according to Turnbull.
Time is Right to Make Deal
The recently appointed U.S. Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, who oversees the NPS, understands the island’s need for a new school campus, Turnbull explained.
“I believe this is the best time to strike a good deal with the National Park Service,” he said. “We’ve brought the need of the island to the Interior Department. I met with Kempthorne personally and mentioned the need of St. John.”
Turnbull has met Kempthorne, the former governor of Idaho, at various National Governors Conferences.
The group who met with Turnbull, calling themselves One Campus, were not in agreement about how much acreage is needed for an educational complex.
No Agreement Over Acreage
After researching stateside school complexes, Kristen Cox, Guy Benjamin School Parent Teacher Organization president and One Campus member, explained an average elementary school occupies at least 10 acres, a middle school at least 15 acres and a high school at least 20 acres.
Officials can not expect to acquire that much land from the NPS, cautioned Turnbull.
“We’re not going to get that much land here in the territory,” the V.I. Governor said. “We’ll have to modify those plans for our purposes.”
Walter Chavez, interim superintendent of the VINP, said One Campus members must determine how much land they want before negotiations with the NPS continue.
“There seems to be no agreement on the number of acres needed for this school complex,” Chavez said. “Someone has to come to an agreement first about the acreage.”
Jackson Hole Preserve Land
One Campus members also presented a new twist to the land exchange plan, in the form of Jackson Hole Preserve land.
In addition to donating about 5,000 acres to the NPS, Rockefeller also acquired additional land on St. John under the auspices of the Jackson Hole Preserve which stipulated the land could be used for community needs and affordable housing.
St. John Administrator Julien Harely doubted the existence of the roughly 500 acres owned by the Jackson Hole Preserve, maintaining the land is now privately owned. One Campus members, however, pledged to investigate further and determine if any of the Jackson Hole-controlled land is still in existence.
While additional research and negotiations must be conducted, officials should not miss the opportunity of working with the current federal administration, Turnbull explained.
“Must Act with Dispatch”
“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ and speculations,” said Turnbull. “While we go here and there, we may lose an opportunity. Our children are our most valuable resource of all — we must act with dispatch.”
One Campus members at the meeting were Alvis Christian, director of the John’s Folly Learning Institute, GBS acting principal Dionne Wells, JESS principal Mario Francis, Lorelei Monsanto, Steve Black, GBS PTO president Cox and JESS PTO president Anthony Hill.
The press will not be welcome at future meetings between One Campus and government officials, Harley explained at the conclusion of the meeting.