The St. Croix campus of the University of the Virgin Islands received new classrooms and a new home for its College of Math and Sciences on Friday with the opening of its Research and Technology Park’s 64 West Center.
The governor, delegate to Congress, president of the Legislature, numerous senators, commissioners, university and RTPark officials came out for a ceremonial ribbon cutting for the state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient new building.
In the works for a dozen years now, the RTPark is an economic-development initiative of the university’s designed to take advantage of the territory’s lucky access to gigantic amounts of fiber optic data carrying capacity. One of two sets of major data-trunk cables landing on St. Croix, the Global Crossing cable, carries the bulk of all communications in and out of the Virgin Islands and most Latin American telecommunication traffic to the U.S. mainland. University officials hope it will ultimately provide both jobs and tax revenue in the territory.
The 64 West Center is a nearly 20,000-square-foot facility on UVI’s St. Croix campus in the field to the immediate west of the campus entrance. It has office space for client companies, two conference rooms – one of which is quite large and can be rented out. Most of the distinctive two-story structure is devoted to classroom and office space which will henceforth house UVI’s College of Math and Sciences on St. Croix.
The center is designed to incorporate a series of energy saving and environmentally friendly elements, exceeding the requirements of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED-certified buildings are designed to lower operating costs, reduce waste, conserve energy and water, and be healthier for occupants, said RTPark Director of Facilities and Operations Denise Kurg.
RTPark Executive Director David Zumwalt later added that the canopy roof also had 15 kilowatts of solar electrical generating capacity and a 20 kilowatt windmill was soon to go up, which, combined with selling excess power to the Water and Power Authority via net metering, should defray much of the utility costs for the building.
The building has a detached canopy roof, which shades the building, reducing air conditioning costs. The light exterior color of the building and roof are designed to reflect rather than absorb daylight radiant heat. Located on a floodplain, the site has extensive rainwater management systems that collect runoff and store it for landscaping use, among an array of other cost, energy and environment saving features.
But the core of the RTPark is a tax incentive program for technology companies, which may be located anywhere in the territory and is up and running and generating revenue now. In exchange for tax breaks, companies work with UVI in a variety of ways, from endowing annual scholarships and hiring interns to financing or providing professional expertise for technology-oriented classes at the university.
UVI President David Hall said it was a "wonderful and exciting day" for the university and the RTPark. "This will be a building where those who are a part of economic development and those in knowledge-based businesses will be working hand in hand with students and faculty involved in research," Hall said.
"We will be able to explore more science courses than we have been able to in the past and it is addressing the problem of limited class space," he said. "What happens inside does matter so, for the university, this is a leap forward. It is a manifestation of a vision. It is an example of how the government, the university and the private sector can work together."
Former Sen. Usie Richards recalled how Malcolm Kirwan, UVI’s vice president for administration and finance for UVI and the RTPark’s first executive director, doggedly pursued the Legislature – first for a loan to help start the project, then coming back twice more to ask for the loan to be made a grant, and again for more funding, "and the Legislature obliged again," Richards said, emphasizing the role of elected officials as policy makers.
Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone credited Richards for helping to shepherd the funding and support for the RTPark in the early days.
"And now the park is operating on our own," Malone said, adding that Zumwalt came to the Legislature one more time, but finally to say they don’t need an appropriation again. “The park is now self-sustaining and we should give them applause for that," Malone added.
Plans for the technology park began in 2001 and, in 2002, the Legislature passed a charter and provided initial funding. The RTPark offers businesses buildings built with their needs in mind, very substantial tax benefits through the Economic Development Commission and access to the resources of the university.
Although in the works for a number of years, the RTPark was been delayed several times. In 2005, strict new federal rules governing source income for companies receiving Economic Development Commission tax benefits cast a shadow over potential investment at the park, but the U.S. Treasury clarified the rules and resolved that problem.
More recently the RTPark struggled to get enough financing to build the on-campus facility, even as its tax incentive program and a hardware collocation space inside Global Crossing’s data center on St. Croix both began to operate and generate revenue.
In 2012 the RTPark scaled back construction plans slightly and began seeking lending to bridge the gap between available funds and projected construction costs. (See related links below)
Ultimately, the RTPark’s 64 West Center was constructed with $5.5 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce; $3.5 million from the V.I. Public Finance Authority, $2 million from UVI; and $3 million in the form of a 15-year loan from Knowledge Investments LLP, an RTPark tenant. Once the federal government certifies the building as LEED compliant, it will free up $500,000 in federal funding, reducing the loan amount to $2.5 million, Zumwalt said.