Despite the uncertainty hanging over the 2020-21 school year as COVID-19 persists, the Bryan administration is standing firm in its commitment to rebuild and renovate the territory’s ailing public schools within five years.
On Tuesday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., along with Education officials, announced the completion of the Educational Facility Master Plan.
The sprawling, 500-page blueprint is the product of consultant, educator and community input and outlines the Education Department’s plan to consolidate its 32 existing facilities to 18 resilient, state-of-the-art schools.
“What does this mean for our territory?” asked V.I. Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin, who appeared alongside Bryan at a news conference Tuesday.
“It means new, sound, solid, strong and resilient buildings — buildings designed to accommodate curriculums of the future [and] buildings conducive to learning … that our current aged facilities are unable to provide.”
The plan, which is available at www.newschoolsvide.com, is broken down into various sections that examine everything from interior design and curriculum to timelines and logistics.
The plan involves the demolition of existing facilities starting this summer and construction to begin — in some cases — by next year.
Altogether, the plan envisions all schools to be completed by as early as 2024 and as late as 2026.
“It’s a process,” said Dionne Wells-Hedrington, chief operating officer for the Education Department. “We’re working through that process to ensure that when we create responsible proposals, when we do scopes of work, we want to make sure that we capture everything that needs to be corrected in that particular site so we don’t have to revisit it.”
Next steps include putting together requests for proposals to acquire architectural design firms, who will coordinate with community stakeholders and design the schools, according to Wells-Hedrington.
Each school will get to “individualize” its own replacement by having an architectural firm devoted exclusively for that school’s design.
The department is also coordinating with the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure the necessary funding for the plan.
“To date, no funding has been approved for construction — however, we continue to work with FEMA to go through a 19-step process to get funding,” said ODR Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien.
Since many schools were built more than 40 years ago, that 19-step process, which involves damage assessments, costing and environmental reviews, could take up to two years, according to Williams-Octalien.
The Bipartisan Budget Act will give new schools the opportunity to be rebuilt to industry standards, as opposed to their pre-storm condition.
Education officials are scheduled to appear on The Press Box on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the plan in further detail and address concerns from the public. The program can be viewed on the Government House Facebook page.