It may be many months overdue, but construction of the National Park ball field is moving forward, with the goal of having the work completed by the end of October, according to Nigel Fields, superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park.
The V.I. Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation manages activities on the ball field and the adjacent playground under a special use permit. This partnership between the federal government and the territory “demonstrates our values of community, sustainability, stewardship, and equal access for all,” Fields said. “Mr. [Elroy] Hill, St. John Deputy Director of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, can soon start planning to use the facility.”
The new improvements go far beyond what existed in the past.
“We’ve designed the ball field to meet Little League Standards,” said Fields, “and we still have space to include a soccer field.”
“The $956,230 contract includes the night-sky compliant lights, shaded bleachers, shaded dugouts, appropriate infield and outfield grain materials and accessibility features such as the sidewalk that provide equal access to everyone,” Fields said.
The contractor is Advantix Engineering Corp.
Fields said fencing and lighting are being installed, concrete dugouts are in place, bleachers are arriving soon, and the electric system should be operational by the end of the month.
The upgrade includes a paved walkway that surrounds the field to encourage and accommodate walkers who now regularly walk around the field in the mornings and late afternoons.
“It’s the main ball field for the island. We want to make sure it’s a safe place for families and kids,” Fields said.
Winston Wells Ball Park, Cruz Bay’s other sports field, has been repurposed to contain modular classrooms for the Julius E. Sprauve school since Hurricane Irma struck in 2017.
The National Park ball field has also been off-limits to the public since the hurricane when the field became a staging area for military operations in response to the storm. After the military left, the field became a storage depot for BBC, the Missouri-based company contracted to replace the island’s wooden power poles with composite poles.
BBC removed all of its equipment in late 2018, but the area still contained debris and the residue of toxic materials that required the use of special equipment to remove, according to Fields.
The project has been in the works for several years.
“Most of the recovery efforts are being funded by a special appropriation for disaster recovery as authorized by Congress,” Fields said. “The NPS Storm Recovery Team based in Interior Region 2 in Atlanta coordinates the funds and contracts with the receiving park.”
Playground Permits Approved
Meanwhile, plans have finally been approved to upgrade the children’s playground adjacent to the ball field, according to Tonia Lovejoy, executive director of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.
“It’s the same concept and design that was presented four years ago,” Lovejoy said. The Friends agreed to spearhead the initiative following the storm and began fundraising. More than $30,000 was donated, but the Friends decided to pause the project as the permitting process dragged on without a definitive start date.
Now Lovejoy is ready to start fundraising again, and it’s going to take a community effort to raise the $500,000 to complete the project, Lovejoy said.
“Playgrounds are not inexpensive, especially on federal lands that must meet all the requirements and accessibility standards,” she said.
The playground has been conceived as a way to introduce youngsters to the natural, cultural, and historical features of St. John. For example, a climbing structure is under design that is a replica of the old Customs House. The small wooden structure that once stood in Cruz Bay park was the first park ranger station on the island, Lovejoy added.
A photo of the original building as well as Michael Milne’s plan for the playground can be seen on the Friends of the V.I. National Park’s website.
Lovejoy said the Friends originally thought about custom designing most of the features on the playground, but the complexities of meeting guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act and other safety standards led them to go with an established playground equipment company. They selected KOMPAN, a company that has provided equipment in other Caribbean locations.
“We’re finalizing the contracts now, and when we’re done, we’ll put out a start date and a timeline,” Lovejoy said. “The development of the design and the process would not have been possible without the contributions of Barefoot Designs, GT Construction, Kurt Marsh Jr., Chelsea Baranowski, and Melissa Wilson,” Lovejoy said.
Other contributors include: Dave Carlson, “who put in the stepping stones to get us where we are today”; Eleanor Gibney, who is propagating native plants for landscaping the playground; Alfredo’s Landscaping, helping with planting; and Rhonda and David McKay, who donated a sculpture of children playing.