As V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen’s St. John school bill, H.R. 53, unanimously passed the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs September 20, V.I. National Park officials and the One Campus group agreed not to oppose the legislation.
The ad hoc One Campus group and the VINP are at odds over how to provide land to the V.I. government for the construction of a mid-island K-12 school in an effort to move Julius E. Sprauve School out of busy and congested Cruz Bay.
One Campus, consisting of several St. John residents, has asked that the VINP land identified for the new school facility be leased to the V.I. government.
National Park Service officials have long favored an exchange of park land for land owned by the V.I. government.
Other St. John residents, including Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft, have said the VINP should donate the necessary land.
Christensen’s bill authorizes the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to enter into a lease with the V.I. government to provide land for construction of the new school.
“We’ve all agreed not to work on it,” said VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove. “We’ll let the legislation move forward.”
One Campus and the VINP came to this agreement following a Saturday, September 16, meeting involving a representative from the office of Governor John deJongh and acting Education Commissioner Lynn Spampinato.
Those at the meeting agreed that a 10-acre portion of the 55-acre Estate Catherineberg property deeded to the VINP when its owner, Ethel May Bishop, died in 2006, is the prime location for the construction of the new school.
“We all agreed in concept that the proposed 10-acre site on Centerline Road is an appropriate site, and I reiterated the National Park Service’s commitment to work on a land exchange,” said Hardgrove. “We went up and visited the site, and I have to say it’s a beautiful area and it seems well-positioned for a school.”
Feasibility Study Needed
“Of course, we still have the resource analysis and the feasibility study to do, should we agree to go forward with a land exchange,” Hardgrove added.
Currently, the NPS only has the authority to approve a land swap, where the land exchanged with the Estate Catherineberg parcel would have to be of equal value.
It will take an act of Congress to authorize the NPS to enter into a lease with the V.I. government, setting a precedent Hardgrove said he is wary about.
“The NPS will follow the direction of the Congress of the United States,” said Hardgrove. “The legislation as proposed seems to leave quite a bit of discretion to the Secretary of the Interior to work out the methods in which we could best enable a lease while still protecting the cultural and natural resources surrounding the property.”
“I think it would set a precedent that could be detrimental to other National Parks,” he added.
Bill Goes to Committee
Christensen, who chairs the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, expressed her happiness at the unanimous vote.
“I am proud that the first bill voted out of the subcommittee which I chair is a bill to provide for a school on the island of St. John,” said Christensen in a press release. “This issue has been languishing far too long.”
“It is my hope that with the passage of H.R. 53 we will finally see the day when the children of St. John will not have to leave their island to attend school,” the delegate added.
“Today’s action by the subcommittee helps to move the process forward to provide quality and safe education for the students of St. John on their home island that they both need and deserve,” Christensen said.
The bill will go to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is expected to vote to send it to the full House of Representatives for a vote “shortly,” according to the delegate’s press release.