Gov. Kenneth Mapp found little public opposition to having Charlotte Amalie High School torn down and rebuilt, but a few residents shared concerns about what will happen to students in the interim if they have to be displaced once again if or when construction starts.
Mapp said CAHS is one of four schools in the territory that meet the federal criteria for complete reconstruction. Addelita Cancryn Junior High School on St. Thomas, Julius Sprauve School on St. John, and Arthur Richards Junior High on St. Croix are the three other schools that could also be rebuilt, Mapp said at a town hall meeting on St. Thomas Monday.
The process of qualifying for the federal dollars needed to start the process is lengthy, and while the governor said his team will do as much as possible to keep making improvements and maintain a normal learning environment, the opportunity to replace decades old school facilities should be seized – if that’s what the public wants.
The purpose of the Monday night meeting, he said, was to see where the CAHS community – staff, teachers, parents and alumni – stand, and to get ideas on what could be done if it’s decided the school will be torn down.
To be clear, Mapp said the federal government will give a baseline number on what it would cost to rebuild CAHS as is, then add on a certain percentage for additional improvements if the decision is made to demolish.
“It’s not like we give the federal government a wish list and say let’s do this, and this, and this,” he said. There will be a cap, and the government has to work within that budget. The bottom line, however, is that school facilities in the territory have been neglected for years and now, the option is finally on the table to get something new, he said.
The governor noted that the school wouldn’t be build overnight and that the government would have to find other facilities for students and staff to work out of during the interim. Even so, most of the public comments shared Monday were in favor of rebuilding CAHS and putting in place a more modern structure, complete with vocational education facilities, new gym, auditorium, cafeteria, and library, along with updated classrooms.
CAHS teacher Iambakisye Richardson proposed a five storied tiered structure that would be divided by subjects – sciences, art, and others – and sectioned off by grade level. A place for the JROTC program and career classes was also included along with a housing section for athletes traveling in between the districts for tournaments. Richardson’s proposal was seconded by others in the audience, many of them alumni, who said that as athletes, it was hard to find a place to stay while they were playing and adding a housing component would be a good investment in the school sports program.
The concerns came later in the meeting from former CAHS principal Jeannette Smith-Barry, who said that while building a new school is necessary, more thought is being given right now to the facilities and not the students, who have once again not been able to start the school year on time.
“There were decisions made in the past year and a half that put the students of this school and a number of other schools at a serious disadvantage and we need to make amends,” she said. “So, we do want a new school, yes, but we don’t want to sacrifice our students. We need a more serious, direct effort to improve what we’re doing now for our children.”
Smith-Barry noted the nearly empty auditorium, questioned the plan for getting CAHS reaccredited next year and talked about the school’s 100th anniversary, which is upcoming in 2020.
Mapp, in response, reiterated that the territory is still recovering from last September’s storms and that rebuilding isn’t an overnight process. The government learned in February that it could qualify for the building of new schools, and since then, has tried to stay true to the process and meet all requirements so that the funding isn’t at any time taken off the table.
Getting students back into the classroom after the storms was meant to help restore a sense of normalcy, but since then, 245 classrooms and ancillary facilities have been constructed over 14 campuses throughout the territory, along with the structures needed to house teachers and staff, he said. The next step is to keep going and part of that means deciding whether or not to rebuild the schools, Mapp added.
“This isn’t overnight but what we’re trying to do is appropriately plan and make the decisions we have to make, getting input from the community so that everyone is fully informed,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think that in the wee hours of an election that we’re making decisions behind anyone’s back or trying to do something without your interest or knowledge of what’s happening.”