For the first time in Virgin Islands history, the Legislature now owns a permanent legislative building on St. Croix, Senate President Myron Jackson (D-STT) announced Friday, and lawmakers aim to fully renovate it in time for the 33rd Legislature.
“This has been a long and frustrating road,” Jackson said, but he added he was pleased that they have secured a “safe, habitable working environment” for their employees.
The Legislature purchased Parcel No. 20 Estate Golden Rock for $975,000 from a company called Crewtex, LLC, according to Jackson. A search of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs website for a business of that name yielded no results.
Senators funded the purchase through Act 8019, which reprogrammed the balance of specific appropriations that were also reprogrammed from other appropriations. It reprogrammed the balance of what was originally $3 million in section 2 of Act 7993 slated for emergency sewage repairs and line replacement at the Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix. That $3 million was drawn from the balances of some 21 capital improvement projects.
Act 8019 also reprogrammed the balance of some $1 million from section 1 of Act 7972 allocated largely for overhauling the HVAC system at Juan Luis Hospital, an amount that was itself re-programmed from funding already allocated to the hospital for other purposes.
“We are excited to have a place to call home,” said Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, who serves as Senate vice-president. “Our central and senatorial staff have worked in two separate locations far longer than we anticipated.”
O’Reilly is referring two Christiansted offices – 1108 King Street and 36-C Strand Street – that the St. Croix Senate staff have occupied since Hurricane Maria dealt serious damage to their Lagoon Street facility. For legislative hearings, the Senate has had to alternately use the V.I. Cardiac Center and the Great Hall at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus.
Jackson, however, said the hurricanes “just drove the nail in the coffin,” enumerating the longstanding and myriad problems of the Lagoon Street facility. Over the years, he said, Senate staff have had to deal with chronic mold contamination in several offices and in the conference room. The Lagoon Street complex’s location also made it prone to periodic floodings.
The Lagoon Street Sewage Treatment Plant also sits next to the complex, said Jackson, and its malfunctions have resulted in unpleasant odor and floodwaters inundating the legislative complex, even sickening some employees. Hundreds of thousands of dollars on cleanup and replacing furniture have been spent after flooding incidents, and the situation just became untenable, according to Jackson.
“We were on the verge on lawsuits with the employees,” he said.
In its search for a new space after the hurricanes, the Legislature appealed to Gov. Kenneth Mapp for the use of the Government Complex in Frederiksted, said Jackson, but Mapp turned them down.
“The governor stated that he was not interested in allowing us to use that facility,” said Jackson, adding that Mapp indicated he wanted to continue using the space for the governor’s function.
Both the Lagoon Street complex and an older, abandoned Senate building on Contentment Road were rentals. According to Jackson, the V.I. Housing Finance Authority has expressed interest in rehabilitating the Lagoon Street building, potentially to house offices managing federally funded programs under the Housing Authority. The Contentment Road building has had no legitimate occupants since 1995, when the Senate moved its St. Croix offices to the Lagoon Street location.
The new building in Golden Rock requires renovations, said Jackson, and now that the Legislature officially owns the building they can take steps forward. According to Toya Malone, executive director at the Legislature, he did a walk-through of the Golden Rock building on Wednesday and recently spoke with architect Megan Boyle. He expects to receive detailed drawings of the design within 30 days that will allow them to secure the necessary permits.
Malone stressed that they are in the early stages of the renovation process. The Senate is still waiting to receive some $2.29 million from the V.I. Public Finance Authority, which has earmarked the monies “for the acquisition of the property identified as No. 20 Estate Golden Rock and retrofitting of a building situated thereon for a new St. Croix Legislative Building,” according to Malone.
The Senate also received proceeds from its insurance company, said Malone, and the balance of those funds may go toward the Golden Rock renovation as well.
Malone also emphasized that not all of the $2.29 million will be used for renovation, although he could not say how much the renovations will cost. He will have a better idea, he said, when they send out a request for proposals and receive bids from contractors.
Jackson anticipates that the Legislature can move into the new facility within six to seven months, with the aim of completing the relocation by January, when the the 33rd Legislature gets sworn in. Malone, citing Murphy’s Law, said he gives it an extra month, projecting a February completion date for the renovations.