Stakeholders and public officers attend the opening ceremony last Thursday. (Photo: Provided)

More than six years after the former Jost Van Dyke Primary School was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma, officials unveiled a new $4.3 million building that is now housing students and will soon serve as a community centre as well.

“The school is envisioned to act as a multi-purpose facility to accommodate functions such as meetings, trainings, events and other community gatherings,” Jerry Samuel, the deputy chairman of the Recovery and Development Agency, said at the opening ceremony last Thursday.

He added that the project includes more than 14,000 square feet of space, three floors, 13 classrooms, offices for the principal and guidance counselor, a sickbay, a library, a music room, science and computer labs, a staff room, packing facilities, and a play area.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley described the facility as “well built” and able to “withstand hurricanes.”

“You shouldn’t need another facility in Jost Van Dyke for the next 100 years,” he said. “Of course, it has to be properly maintained, and it has to keep pace in terms of technology.”

Library, HLSCC

Also during the ceremony, Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro announced plans to establish a community library and a satellite H. Lavity Stoutt Community College location at the facility.

But there are still some final touches to be completed before those broader plans come to fruition, she said.

“The ministry has been informed by the RDA that furniture and playground equipment have been procured, and we eagerly await their arrival,” Ms. de Castro said. “Additionally, certain safety measures must be put in place before the community can utilise the building.”

The furniture and playground equipment are among the items funded in part by $350,000 from donors Unite BVI and the Soggy Dollar Foundation. Additional donor-funded items include Smart Boards for each classroom and eight laptops, according to the RDA deputy chairman.

Students are now attending classes in the new Jost Van Dyke Primary School building, which will also soon serve as a community centre eventually. (Photo: Provided)

The project had been long delayed, and Second District Representative Mitch Turnbull, who represents JVD, noted at the ceremony that the former facility was “substandard” even before Hurricane Irma damaged it in 2017.

In August 2022, Quality Construction Limited signed the $4.3 million contract to build the new school with the goal of completing it by the start of the current school year last September.

However, the project faced delays in the construction phase due in part to “protracted lead times in procurement and logistical challenges experienced by the contractor,” according to a November 2023 statement from the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports.

Temp classrooms

While awaiting the new school, students have been relocated to temporary facilities on multiple occasions in recent years.

In 2022, for instance, they attended class at Foxy’s Tamarind Bar while the former school was under renovations.

And after heavy rains further damaged that facility last October, students were ferried to Tortola to attend classes at Leonora Delville Primary School starting in November.

‘Moral responsibility’

Last Thursday, the premier spoke of the importance of equity across the territory, acknowledging that residents of Jost Van Dyke and other smaller islands can sometimes feel “neglected.”

“It is our duty as a government, our moral responsibility, to ensure that despite where you are in the Virgin Islands — and we know that we have a lot of work to do — you deserve the same quality of education and the same quality of public services from your government,” he said. “As difficult as it may be and as much as it may cost, it is our responsibility to ensure that you have equity across the board.”

Ms. de Castro described the new facility as a “critical step forward.”

“It is a beacon of hope, a symbol of progress, and a testament to our collective commitment to the dreams and aspirations of the people of this island,” she said.