St. John Playground Enhancement Bill Wins Senate Committee Approval

Playground in Cruz Bay under reconstruction. (Judi Shimel photo)

Efforts to advance the reconstruction of a public playground in Cruz Bay won approval from the 34th Legislature Committee on Finance Friday. Passage in committee of Bill No. 34-0383 sends the measure towards final approval by the full Senate.

The bill calls on lawmakers to appropriate $250,000 to fund the second phase of work at the playground near the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center. In the past several weeks, workers have already dismantled the existing playground equipment and prepared the grounds with help from private funding raised with help from a local nonprofit.

Lawmakers and testifiers interacted by live stream from Senate chambers on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Friends Executive Director Tonya Lovejoy and Sports and Parks Commissioner Calvert White appeared at the Friday hearing.

Lovejoy told committee members how St. John youth and children visiting the island would benefit from playground enhancements. White explained that the playground and the adjacent little league ballfield are on National Park property but are managed by Sports, Parks and Recreation under a shared-use agreement.

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Committee member Javon James called support of the bill an easy decision.

“It is a no-brainer when it comes to the youth of the territory,” James said.

Senators Novelle Francis and Dwayne DeGraff also expressed support. Francis asked White if there were plans for playground projects on the eastern end of St. John.

James asked Lovejoy about the total cost and the anticipated completion date; $800,000 was given as the projected cost. Lovejoy said $500,000 is being spent on work in Phase 1. Phase 2 work includes construction of a playhouse in a scaled-down replica of the old Cruz Bay Customs House, landscaping, and creation of a classroom-style seating arrangement where outdoor instruction can take place.

Lovejoy also described a visual rendering of the Virgin Islands March to be painted as a mural on the playground wall.

Preparation for new installations are underway at the Cruz Bay Playground reconstruction site. (Judi Shimel photo)

After the measure passed in committee, the bill’s sponsor Angel Bolques commended the Friends group for getting the project started. “ … serving as the official non-profit, philanthropic arm of the VI National Park, Friends of the VI National Park organized a grassroots campaign and marshaled community resources to help revitalize the Cruz Bay playground,” Bolques said.

If the measure wins full Senate approval, funds will be allotted to the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation and turned over to the Friends group. The next stop for the bill is the Rules Committee. That hearing is expected to take place before the current Legislative session ends in December.

In its Friday session, the committee also passed Bill No. Bill No. 34-0346, calling for creation of a lease agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Twin City Cricket Association, Inc. for a cricket facility and other related activities on St. Croix.

Property and Procurement Deputy Commissioner Vincent Richards told committee members that the lease agreement is for ten years and provides options for two additional ten-year renewals. The base annual rent is $12,000, payable in monthly installments of $1,000 during the term of the lease, Richards said; it also includes a provision for $1 million in liability insurance.

White expressed support for the bill. “We look forward to seeing the new development plans and seeing the project through,” the commissioner said.

Bill sponsor Javan James reassured committee member Dwayne DeGraff that granting the lease would not affect the availability of surrounding agricultural land. James said the proposed cricket field was previously used as a soccer field.