St. Croix Legislature

For years, the V.I. Legislature has been displaced on St. Croix.

Ever since hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged the Lagoon Street facility in Frederiksted — which was already fraught with challenges — the Legislature has essentially ping-ponged between sites, from the V.I. Cardiac Center to the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus.

Now, lawmakers and staff are gearing to move to Estate Golden Rock, where a newly-renovated building — purchased by the government — stands to be the Senate’s new home.

“I think it is a very historic moment because it is the first time that the Legislature is going to own its own building on St. Croix,” said Robert McNamara, assistant executive director of the Legislature. “All the other locations were either rented, borrowed or loaned from other government agencies.”

The Legislature currently shells out nearly $900 a day to rent two properties in Christiansted. These properties — at 108 King Street and 36-C Strand Street — accommodate Senate offices and provide only limited space for visiting senators from St. Thomas.

The new building, however, incorporates office space for all 15 senators and their staff, as well as the Legislature’s Central Staff.

“There’s also an employees’ lounge, a larger conference room where senators can work and a reduced carbon footprint, with all LED lighting and solar-powered lighting in the parking lot,” McNamara said.

Barring any unforeseen events, the building should be ready for use by the end of the month, he added.

The Estate Golden Rock facility was purchased in 2018 for $975,000. The renovation project was originally bid for $3,748,625 and eventually included more than $300,000 in cost overruns due to change orders, according to McNamara.

“About 98% of the changes that we made were requests to upgrade the project,” he said. “Out of that $306,000, we are going to recoup a large portion of it in liquidated damages.”

Initial projections had the building completely renovated by the start of the 33rd Legislature. McNamara, citing delays in the permitting process, insisted the project moved quickly regardless.

“I think we did it in record time as it relates to construction because the building had to be completely gutted and we practically built the whole building in one year,” he said. “So, I don’t think there was any great delay. A project like this would generally take a lot longer.”

The contractor behind the renovation was Eleven Construction, LLC.

Senate President Novelle Francis Jr., who recently took a tour of the new facility, said he was “satisfied” with the outcome.

“It’s a facility that I believe will be reflective of the first branch of government,” he said. “There’s now one location where a constituent can come and meet their senators. Before we didn’t always have adequate space or the availability of UVI, so we had to travel to St. Thomas. Now, travel expenses will be reduced significantly by being able to conduct meetings on St. Croix.”

Senate Vice President Myron Jackson, who was Senate president during the purchase of the Golden Rock facility, equally praised the completion of the facility.

“We needed a permanent home and we’ve achieved that,” he said. “Finally, the Legislature will be able to better serve the community in the St. Croix district with a building that is relatively state-of-the-art.”

Jackson said it was “regretful” to leave the Frederiksted area but insisted the Lagoon Street complex suffered from environmental challenges like flooding, a nearby sewage treatment plant and mold that left people sick. The situation was only exacerbated by the two hurricanes of 2017.

“That facility is built on a pond, a wetland, so there’s a lot of moisture there,” Jackson said. “The hurricane was the last straw, the nail in the coffin. It just became a nightmare, to tell you the truth.”

Jackson, who announced earlier this year that he won’t seek reelection, said it was satisfying to see this chapter of St. Croix history come to a close and hopes the new facility will be conducive to those conducting the people’s business.

“As I exit the Legislature, it’s with satisfaction to see it finally completed and that in the St. Croix institution has been made whole,” he said.

— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email ajrao@dailynews.vi.