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Housing, Parks and Recreation Reports to Senators

July 31, 2006–The status of the territory's parks and recreational facilities are considered to be in "suitable" condition, Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson told senators during Monday's Housing, Sports and Veteran's Affairs Committee meeting. He added that the department currently has a five-year action plan that targets more than 30 projects–including the reconstruction of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium on St. Croix.
During the meeting, however, Hobson and other Housing, Parks and Recreation staff said there is currently no funding available for the reconstruction of the stadium. According to Roy Canton, the department's planning director, $10 million for the project was supposed to have been provided through the Public Finance Authority.
"This money wasn't guaranteed, but through our talks with the PFA, we were told that the money would be made available for us," Canton said.
He added that $1.5 million was appropriated last year by the Legislature for repairs to the stadium. "However, we recommended to various government officials that repairing the stadium would be useless, since it's in such deplorable condition," Canton said.
Hobson added that the department is still waiting for the PFA to release funds earmarked for repairs to the DC Canegata Ballpark. He said Housing, Parks and Recreation also enlisted the PFA's help in securing architectural and engineering services for the repairs, along with the procurement of a contract.
Sen. Juan-Figueroa Serville, chairman of the Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was "disappointed" by the news, and said that rebuilding the Paul E. Joseph stadium had turned into a "political issue."
Figueroa-Serville said he was also "embarrassed" by the state of some St. Croix public housing communities–especially those under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
During the meeting, a video compiled by Figueroa-Serville's office showed senators the current state of the facilities, including the Anna's Hope, Estate Profit and Aureo Diaz Heights housing communities.
Hobson said some of the communities–particularly those in Anna's Hope and Estate Profit–are under the jurisdiction of Housing, Parks and Recreation, and are included in the department's action plan.
The video indicated that the recreational facilities at Estate Profit are currently being repaired, while the basketball court and playground area at the LBJ Housing Community (also under Housing, Parks and Recreation) are in "bad shape."
The video also highlighted recreational facilities at the Walter I M Hodge Housing Community, along with those at William's Delight. "At the Hodge Community, the playground needs a lot of repairs, the fencing is damaged and the entire basketball court needs to be renovated," Figueroa-Serville said.
Recreational facilities in William's Delight are currently in similar condition, he said. "These are places where that the federal government should be taking care of. They decided that they were going to take over our Housing Authority, and they said they could do a better job than we could. They should put their money where their mouth is," Figueroa-Serville said, adding that Michael Hollis, the federal receiver for the V.I. Housing Authority, was invited to testify during Monday's meeting but did not attend.
Hobson said the department is currently working on developing other housing initiatives for residents, including the construction of 50 new affordable housing units on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
According to Olga Meyers, deputy commissioner of Property and Procurement, the two departments collaborated to solicit proposals from contractors willing to finance the construction of the affordable housing units. "The goal was to find a company willing to construct 50 new homes per year," she said. "Three proposals came in and a company was selected. However, we have to receive authorization from the Legislature to start the process of drawing up the contract before anything can be awarded."
Hobson explained that the contractor will receive a "design build" contract, which is different from the usual procurement contracts drawn up by Property and Procurement and the Department of Justice. A design build contract states that the contractor would finance the development of the houses. "Because of this, we need the Legislature's approval before we proceed," he said.
Hobson added that the department has not yet submitted a plan to the Legislature for the construction of the houses.
Present during Monday's meeting were Sens. Figueroa-Serville, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Usie R. Richards and Ronald E. Russell.
Sens. Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Louis P. Hill and Celestino A. White were absent.

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