All too frequently in recent months, we have found ourselves writing about another hurricane recovery project that is far behind.
This week, it’s the public library. The main branch in Road Town closed even before Hurricane Irma: In 2016, officials said mould and other air-quality issues meant that the former facility on Flemming Street — which itself was a shabby embarrassment — could no longer operate.
Around that time, work got under way on a new facility at the former Clarence Thomas Limited Building in Pasea. We had high hopes. But after Irma, that building was converted into a temporary high school. More than four years later, students are still taking classes there while plans to erect new buildings at the Elmore Stoutt High School campus face ongoing delays — also for lack of sufficient recovery funding.
Meanwhile, the recent Standing Finance Committee deliberations made clear that progress on a new library is unlikely to come this year. Worse, there may be nothing to fill the facility when it is built: The chief librarian told the SFC that simply getting a bookmobile back on the road would require purchasing 2,000 books.
The lack of a library is a national embarrassment, and it says much about the territory’s priorities that the government hasn’t even managed to open a temporary one in Road Town since Irma.
Funding, we gather, is the main problem. As we’ve noted on this page again and again, the hurricane recovery is still dramatically underfunded. So far, it has relied largely on a $65 million loan from the Caribbean Development Bank for a recovery that initially was projected to cost more than $700 million.
Despite the shortfall, the government has stood by its refusal to accept the United Kingdom’s £300 loan guarantee offer, and it has found no other comparable source of funding. Hence, no library in Road Town.
Leaders need to step up and explain their plan to provide the new facility that they have promised for many years.
Such projects should be a priority, not an afterthought. But without a major funding source, we fear the territory can expect to be without a national library for years to come.