After at least a decade of delays, the new Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Centre on Virgin Gorda will open on Feb. 20, then-acting Premier Carvin Malone promised during a community meeting last Thursday at the island’s Catholic Community Centre.
The project, which has been in the works since at least 2009, has seen repeated setbacks, with government officials promising various opening dates that never came to fruition.
But Mr. Malone, who is also the minister of health and social development, said the delays will end next month.
“We have a lot of services that we’re going to add — even if they’re not there now, they’re being programmed — and on the 20th of February we are going to swing the doors open for the Nurse Iris O’Neal clinic,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd of nearly 100 people.
The centre, he explained, eventually will have new services, including a dialysis unit and childbirth care.
“If you want to have your baby born in Virgin Gorda, in the Ninth District, you should be able to,” he said, adding, “If you want to take an x-ray or an ultrasound, you shouldn’t have to travel to Tortola to do this.”
The announcement was one of many updates provided during the pub- lic meeting, which was followed by another on Anegada on Friday morning.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley led off the VG session with a breakdown of various expenditures. Then he gave updates on initiatives planned this year for his Ninth District, which includes VG and Anegada.
“Bregado Flax Primary School, you’re gonna be tackled this year,” he said. “I can’t give you the exact quarter, but between the first and second quarter you should have that building started — and completed for the next school year.”
At the Jeffrey Caines Arena, rebuilding is behind schedule because of “shipping challenges,” he said, but necessary materials have arrived, and the arena’s bathrooms will be moved inside and the parking lot will be repaved.
Discussions are also under way regarding an additional basketball court on the island, he said, explaining that funding has been secured but land is needed.
“If you have a half acre of land you want to give me for a basketball court, I’ll take it: Raise your hand,” he told attendees, adding, “We have to make sure we have more activities for the young people to do.”
The government administration buildings on the island will also be repaired this year, according to the minister, who also promised extensive roadwork.
“We want to start transforming the look and feel of The Valley,” he said, adding that a committee chaired by Junior Minister of Trade and Investment Promotion Shereen Flax-Charles [R-at large] will start with the Lee Road project from the St. Thomas Bay dock to The Baths. “We’re gonna change how the entire road looks and feels.”
The road to the airport will also get attention, according to the minister.
“I cannot say about the airport paving itself, but the road should be paved by the first quarter in this year,” he said. “You cannot have tourists coming to the airport and there’s a really bumpy, dirty, jagged road there.”
Safety concerns at the St. Thomas Bay ferry dock will be addressed this year as well, with efforts continuing to end the practice of using the same dock
for cargo and passengers, according to the minister.
To that end, he explained, he has been meeting with Romney Penn, the president of the Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour, which was gutted for renovations prior to Hurricane Irma and has not been fully rebuilt.
“Up to this morning, I met with [Mr. Penn] concerning what we are doing with that eyesore in the marina and what we need to be doing going forward,” the minister said. “He has promised me that we are going to see an increase in activity in the marina starting very soon.”
He added that a contract was signed last Thursday for landscaping works around the new building in the area.
By the end of February, he said, “All work should be done towards again bringing the marina back into a real town cente.”
Meanwhile, metal has arrived for a new building in the area.
“So we are going to see a whole transformation taking place in the marina,” he said. “One of the reasons why we are going to transform the marina is because we want to separate the cargo and the passengers and bring the passengers into the marina, but I told Mr. Penn I will take no one in there until the place looks decent and nice.”
Housing, YEP, dance
Other plans for the year, he said, include an affordable-housing scheme; a Youth Empowerment Project centre on VG; a memorial park dedicated to the late former Premier Ralph O’Neal on VG and another dedicated to the late Theodolph Faulkner on Anegada; and a solar farm.
The minister admitted, however, that he was frustrated by the government’s slow progress in addressing the open burning at the VG dump.
“We’ve made significant progress in terms of figuring out how best to tackle that atrocity up in the hill there,” he said. “That will be addressed, I promise you.”
Ms. Flax-Charles also gave updates, speaking about the resumption of dance classes on VG after many years; the start of WhatsApp chats to inform residents about community events; and a mural project.
During the discussion period, residents voiced concerns about topics including youth programmes; licence renewals for the elderly; environmental degradation; water and sewerage issues; and loose dogs.
Mr. Wheatley encouraged residents to view his annual report online at vincentwheatley.com.