Danish architecture students and their professors are currently in the territory to commence work on rehabilitating colonial-era government buildings that are planned to serve as educational and cultural tourism centers.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Myron Jackson, who is spearheading the restoration projects, held a press conference at the historic Masonic Lodge in Charlotte Amalie to announce the project and welcome the Danish students and their professors.
The restoration projects are part of the 2017 Centennial celebratory initiative called “In Search of Identity,” which marks the 100th year anniversary of Denmark’s sale and transfer of the former Danish West Indian Islands to the United States.
Jackson expressed his passion for the project, noting that it’s “unconscionable” to let such “remarkable structures” just deteriorate, especially since they are such an important part of the territory’s colonial history.
At total of 21 architecture students ¬from the Royal Academy of the Fine Arts School of Architecture and the Aarhus School of Architecture of Denmark are working in the territory for the next three weeks to take detailed measurements of the old Christiansted Barracks and the J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School Complex in Charlotte Amalie. There are also plans to restore the Battery on St. John.
According to Thomas Kampmann, professor of architecture at the academy, after taking the buildings’ measurements the students will spend the rest of the school year designing the restoration plans and creating models of the buildings. The students’ design assistance will come at no cost to the territory.
While the Danish students are here, local members of the American Institute of Architects will be on hand to offer mentorship and Charlotte Amalie High School students who are taking drafting classes will get a firsthand look at the project.
Jackson said that community members were consulted about what purposes they wanted the restored buildings to serve. With that input the decision was made to rehabilitate the elementary school into an arts school and cultural center for St. Thomas. St. Croix’s Christiansted Barracks will become a university-level school of architecture that focuses on structural design and historical preservation.
As a joint collaboration, both the Danish and Virgin Islands governments are splitting the $20 million project cost, but are seeking to receive half of that amount from the private sector. Jackson said that Gov. Kenneth Mapp pledged to pay a full $10 million if the territory is unable to raise $5 million from the private sector.
Jackson said that the restoration projects will take place over the next few years in three key phrases. Right now the project is in phase one, in which the scope of the project is being defined with building designs and funding sources being determined.
The next phase will be to rehabilitate the buildings with the final phase being construction of national museum at the end of Hospital Gade near the waterfront. If the project goes as planned, the J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School Complex could be open for at least some small-scale community engagement events in 2017.
Commissioners and staff from a number of government departments, including Public Works, Property and Procurement, Police, Planning and Natural Resources and the Office of the Governor, were present to speak in support of the project, as were representatives from the American Institute of Architects and My Brother’s Workshop.
“I am trying to achieve a few things with these initiatives – to assist Virgin Islanders in the discovery of their identity, history and culture; to provide educational opportunities in the field of architecture, museum science, culture, and the arts for our youth, the region and international exchange; and to generate new money,” Jackson said.
Having recently returned from a trip to Cuba, Jackson said the Virgin Islands could learn a lot from how that island nation invests in and empowers its people through the cultural arts. His vision is to transform Hospital Gade into a cultural arts corridor that would inspire local youth and draw tourists from around the world.
“We have a rich cultural heritage in the Virgin Islands. It is time that we use it to foster our national pride and expand our revenue base through organized efforts to enhance our overall cultural heritage tourism product,” Jackson concluded.