The Virgin Islands Department of Education held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, February 23 to announce the start of the $159M construction of the new Arthur A. Richards PreK-8 School, marking the first time in nearly three decades a school has been built in the Territory. The 145,000 sq. ft. school, which will feature state-of-the-art learning spaces, will be located at the site of the former Evelyn M. Williams Elementary School.
Education Commissioner Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington expressed her joy in the significant milestone the day represented.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point and in the wake of two back-to-back storms, we have been presented with the opportunity and the resources to make this day possible,” she said.
Commissioner Hedrington thanked the New Schools Construction Advisory Board, MCN Build, DLR Group, Witt O’Brien’s, and Department of Education staff, including Architect Chaneel Callwood-Daniels, for their tireless efforts toward the department’s transformation. She hailed the day as not just an opportunity for the Department of Education, but for the St. Croix community and its children.
“The new Arthur Richards PreK-8 School will set the bar for schools across the Caribbean, allowing us to transform today’s learners into tomorrow’s leaders,” she added.
Governor Albert Bryan Jr reminded attendees of the perseverance it took to realize this dream and implored them to remain focused.
“Seven years ago, we had no idea what we were going to do with this site, and here we are today, getting ready to break ground on the first new school in thirty years,” he said. “It has taken a long time to get to this point and we have so much more work to do. So today, as we dig this earth, let’s make a solid promise to ourselves that we are going to be part of the team focused on moving the Territory forward.”
Office of Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien also praised the commitment of federal partners to appropriately invest in the territory. “Today’s ceremony could not have been possible without the partnership and collaboration of all stakeholders, my staff, FEMA, Delegate Plaskett, DPW, VITEMA, VIHFA and the allowances of the Bipartisan Budget Act.
Dir. Williams-Octalien went on to explain that presently, “FEMA has approved the replacement of seven schools in both districts, to include the Claude O. Markoe School in Frederiksted. We are grateful for the opportunity afforded to us by our federal partners, not just to rebuild, but to transform the Territory’s education system and provide an environment for our children to learn, develop, and grow.”
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett commented on her role in Congress’s fiscally responsible decision to ensure that monies for demolition, construction and all associated costs were set aside to rebuild Arthur Richards the right way.
“With the support of our partners working collaboratively in our roles, we have collectively pushed to secure over $209 million just for this site, ensuring that the Territory receives what we rightfully deserve to rebuild,” she said.
The Department of Education has employed the services of top architecture and design firms for the planning, layout, and construction of the new school. Working closely with the Department and Witt O’Brien’s, DLR Group—an integrated design firm delivering architecture, engineering, interiors, planning, and building optimization for new construction, renovation, and adaptive reuse—led the VIDE’s educational facilities plan in 2020 that sets the standard for constructing 21st century learning spaces in the USVI. Furthermore, the firm created the Arthur Richards bridging documents that would lead to the procurement of design-build contractor, MCN Build.
The MCN/Perkins Eastman Design Build team will now advance DLR’s concept design and bridging documents, with the goal of bringing the Arthur Richards project to substantial completion by July 2025. The team consists of Perkins Eastman, local architectural firm Jaredian and local builder GEC. MCN and Perkins Eastman have worked together for the past 13 years, delivering 16 successful school projects. Perkins Eastman Architects, DPC, is an international planning, design, and consulting firm whose passion is to improve school facilities for educational clients through the incorporation of each institution’s unique core values, goals, and mission. MCN Build has built more than $2B of K-12 school construction.
To learn more about the Arthur A. Richards PreK-8 School and the Department of Education’s plan to build new schools in the Virgin Islands, visit www.newschoolsvide.com.