Coral Bay community center

This sprung structure, center, at the former Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School site, could serve as a Coral Bay community center in the future.

As the Coral Bay Community Council prepares to kick off their 2021 membership year next month, the non-profit organization is looking to take matters into their own hands.

“We’ve realized that our population is so small and we’re so remote that we are not going to get the Virgin Islands government’s attention for providing the infrastructure that people all over the territory are clamoring for,” said CBCC Executive Director Sharon Coldren. “To get the things we want as a community, we’ll need to be — as we’ve always been — self-sufficient. We need to step up as a community and take responsibility for the things we want, and hope we can cooperate with the government closely on certain initiatives.”

Government cooperation will be required for some of the community organization’s upcoming plans, namely the goal to establish a community center at the site of the former Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School. The sprung structure currently on the site was built by FEMA after Hurricane Irma and can host up to 80 people. The building features a kitchen, internet, air conditioning, and a brand new wastewater treatment system, but access to the structure, which is currently through the double gates behind the building on the street, is unsafe for children, said Coldren. The land the FEMA structure sits on is still owned by the V.I. Education Department; paired with the adjacent V.I. Port Authority-owned land, where the Coral Bay Fire Station and parking lot are located and where upwards of 100 cars could park for meetings and events, the centrally located site could be an ideal place for a community center.

“All the debris at the site has to be fenced off and lighting needs to be added if the center is going to be used at night, but I would be very surprised if these things are in anyone’s budget,” said Coldren. “As a community, we’ll have to find other sources of funding, which could be grants, but we also need private donations to make some of these things happen. It would be great if this could happen in conjunction with government funding.”

With the realization that government attention at the site may continue to be delayed, the CBCC has floated the idea of constructing a community center and hurricane shelter elsewhere, on land that is donated or purchased by the organization, or possibly in conjunction with another island nonprofit. In the meantime, the CBCC has formed a successful partnership with the St. John Christian Academy, which has plans to open a preschool at a building located at the entrance to Spring Garden. Originally a home for the Boys & Girls Club and formerly owned by the Baptist Church, the preschool will be able to accommodate up to 21 children. CBCC is footing the bill for supplies to get the building ready including air conditioning and hurricane-impact windows, with the goal of completing renovations by December. Though in-person preschool can’t happen currently due to COVID-19, the building can serve as a meeting space for small groups.

“There’s a little bit of outdoor space too, which will be fenced in and safe,” said Coldren. “While COVID is still ongoing we’re thinking about it being available seven days a week with a maximum of one or two events a day. Then as the pandemic comes to an end, we’ll be able to open it for broader use and hopefully as a preschool in fall 2021.”

Sports and recreation is another area the nonprofit community organization hopes to address, with plans in place for a new playground at a “centrally located restaurant,” said Coldren, for use by the public.

“We are working on seeing if we can get some donated playground equipment installed for children ages 3 to 11,” said the CBCC executive director. “Even though the equipment will be donated, it’s going to cost upwards of $12,000 for a safe installation with proper footings and safety surfacing, plus the cost of insurance, which is phenomenal for something like this.”

A solid waste convenience center, cultural and historical education center, emergency services center, walkability infrastructure, community gardening initiative, and a small marine facility and docks round out CBCC’s community facilities wishlist.

Preservation of the environment and Coral Bay Harbor also remains high on CBCC’s to-do list, with a focus on wastewater and watershed management.

“The key question for watershed management is the well-being of the people and the environment,” said Coldren. “We’ve done a lot of work on that over the years. The most obvious thrust of watershed management is managing the stormwater that comes down the slopes in Coral Bay so it doesn’t harm the ocean environment, and so it doesn’t take out roads and houses on its way down.”

More detailed plans for CBCC’s environmental work will be forthcoming soon, Coldren added.

A new initiative that’s popped up in response to the pandemic is assistance with virtual learning at the Calabash Boom Community Center.

“We’ve gotten a grant to assist in helping students in Coral Bay with virtual learning,” said Coldren. “This will be done on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will begin as soon as we can get our ducks in a row, so parents should be on the lookout for info. Parents can fill out an application saying what their child needs help with and we’ll make sure the right tutors are available.”

Ultimately, though the CBCC plans to work toward many goals with the help of grants, community members, and other stakeholders, cooperation from the government will be necessary to move some initiatives forward, Cauldron said.

“We certainly need some cooperation from the government,” she said. “Without that, a lot of things are much harder to accomplish. We do have a number of different sources of major funding plus the collective resources of our very can-do population. We’re used to taking care of ourselves here.”

To join the CBCC for their 2021 membership year, visit www.coralbaycommunitycouncil.org. Membership dues can be waived for those interesting in joining.