Sports activities at the V.I. National Park ballfield soon won’t be dependent on clear skies.
The field, which floods during rains and includes deteriorating playground equipment, will be upgraded thanks to a partnership between the St. John Community Foundation, VINP and Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation.
“The ballpark is the property of VINP, but HPR has a permit for use of the property,” said HPR Commissioner St. Claire Williams at a Wednesday morning, July 1, meeting at the St. John Administrator’s Office. “We manage the property and have certainly tried to maintain it. We’ve noticed it needs work and the community has requested that we make improvements at the field.”
Upgrades to the VINP will consist of installing new fencing, playground equipment and energy efficient lighting, and draining, grading and seeding the field, explained HPR’s territorial director for planning and development Roy Canton.
“Currently, the field isn’t properly graded, doesn’t drain and can’t be used when it rains,” Canton said. “Some of the playground equipment definitely needs replacement and there is no lighting so the use of the field is limited to day-time activities only.”
HPR’s work is expected to run between $230,000 and $250,000. VINP officials are also pitching in on the field improvement project.
As part of the park’s planned North Shore Road paving project, the parking lot near the field will be included in the scope of work, explained VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove.
“I’m proud to say that HPR and the community has worked together on this and the National Park Service will try to compliment their work,” said Hardgrove. “We’ll pave the access road as part of the North Shore project at a cost of about $400,000.”
VINP officials will also upgrade the rest room facilities, and install solar powered lights in the back parking lot and around the VINP 50th Anniversary plaza outside the Visitors’ Center, Hardgrove added.
“Our investment in the project will be around $500,000,” he said.
In addition to the VINP and HPR funds, a private company is stepping up to the plate as well. Wharton-Smith, a Florida-based construction company which is currently building Pond Bay Club in Estate Chocolate Hole, has provided technical assistance and use of its equipment, explained SJCF executive director Paul Devine.
“Wharton-Smith has taken the lead in providing plans to date, engineering surveys and they will provide equipment and labor for the repair, drainage and grading of the field — all donated,” Devine said.
Before work gets under way — which Canton estimated would take about four months — a federal special use permit must be issued to HPR from the National Park Service, explained Hardgrove.
“The special use permit requires a federal action, but we’ll try to get that expedited,” he said. “I don’t foresee any archaeological issues there since the field is a fill area. Once those permits are issued we should be able to move forward.”
Canton hoped HPR could start putting out bids for construction as early as the end of the summer.
“We should have permits in hand by then, but everything depends on the weather of course,” said Canton.
Once permits are in place, HPR will schedule a public meeting to get feedback from residents about the planned improvements to the VINP field.
The upgrades to the VINP field are part of HPR’s overall initiative to improve facilities across the territory, according to Williams.
“HPR did assessments of all of our facilities across the territory at the beginning of this administration,” Williams said. “We got a $3 million appropriation to address the repairs and enhancements of facilities. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.”
“We estimated that we needed $5.4 million, but with the $3 million, that is $1.5 million for each district,” said the HPR Commissioner.
The department has plans to improve the basketball court at Pine Peace as well, Williams added.
“We’ve installed energy efficient lighting and we’re moving next to install a French drain and to resurface the court,” he said. “We’ll also install new backboards and fencing.”
HPR has already installed new lights and a new electrical system at Winston Wells ball field and will also be improving the landscaping and fencing in the area, Canton explained.
A five acre government owned parcel of land in Estate Carolina in Coral Bay could possibly be used for a tennis court or basketball court, Canton added.
“We had people at one time come forward with plans to develop the site for recreational uses, but the plans didn’t reflect the topography of the area,” said Canton.
Since then, however, the land has been used as a dump for fill which has changed the topography, Canton added.
“We can’t put anything major there, but we could possible install a basketball court or tennis court,” said HPR’s territorial director for planning and development.