The St. John Museum Collection was transferred from Elaine Sprauve Library in 2006, headed to a permanent space in the St. John Battery, but 13 years and much uncertainty later, the collection seems destined to head back to its old home, historic preservation officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
Arlene Pinney Benjamin, acting director for the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said the museum collection was transferred to the Battery in August 2006 just as the renovation for the space was close to completion.
“The intent was to create an engaging space where visitors and residents could view St. Johnian artifacts and cultural items, plus see the historic fortification itself,” Benjamin said Tuesday at the Senate Committee on Culture and Historic Preservation in the Cleone Creque Legislative Annex on St. John.
The museum collection itself consists of various artifacts, metals, textiles, photographs and three-dimensional models of historical reference. The entire collection can fit into a space similar to that of the Department of Education’s modular classrooms, according to Sean Krigger, acting director of State Historic Preservation under DPNR.
But after costly renovations to the Battery’s lower level, a change in administration resulted in the museum collection languishing in the Battery with no timeline on when it can be moved back to Elaine Sprauve.
According to Benjamin, the de Jongh Administration suspended the project due to “Homeland Security concerns for the safety of the Governor’s Office.” The collection has remained at the Battery ever since, with three rotating librarians taking turns to check on the collection’s condition, according to Krigger.
Committee Chairman Sen. Myron Jackson (D-STT) said he wants the issue resolved, making sure that the collection is not only taken care of by DPNR but also made accessible to the public.
He last saw the collection after the 2017 hurricanes, in “relatively fair condition,” he recalled. He noted, however, that without the proper environment, items like metal artifacts might be exposed to corrosive elements.
“It needed care, and that’s why I keep pushing on this issue,” Jackson said.
DPNR’s plans to move the collection back to Elaine Sprauve has already hit some hurdles.
“Based on professional expertise received from the Smithsonian Institute, it is necessary that said collections be placed in a climate-controlled environment,” Benjamin said, referring to a post-hurricane assessment made by Smithsonian Institute representatives that Jackson invited to the territory.
Benjamin said the department has already secured funding for the trailer and are now working with federal and local entities on acquiring one that can provide the proper environment for the collection. But in spite of their efforts, Benjamin said the collection still has to wait in line for the trailer to become available.
Department officials initially contacted Department of Education for the potential use of one of its modular classrooms, but the Education department’s price point for use of a modular unit was more than DPNR’s capacity to pay, according to Krigger.
When the move finally occurs, Krigger said that from an architectural standpoint, some of the collection will likely be put on public display, but some will be placed in storage. As of Tuesday, however, officials could not provide a timeline for the collection’s return to Elaine Sprauve Library.
At Tuesday’s hearing, lawmakers also approved Bill No. 33-0020, proposed by Sen. Janelle Sarauw (I-STT), honoring and commending Virgin Islands singer Tishelle Knight for her accomplishments, service and musical contributions to the community. Knight has been singing with Cool Session Brass for 19 years.
The committee also approved Jackson’s bill recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, which was established Feb. 11, 1969. VIPA acting Executive Director Damian Cartwright, who testified before the committee, said major plans to improve the authority includes finalizing a 20-year plan for the reconstruction of Crown Bay, collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge Schooner Bay Channel at Gallows Bay on St. Croix, and building a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Red Hook on St. Thomas.