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April 2024
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COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATES FROM DSPR AND AARP VIRGIN ISLANDS

Published: Apr 24, 2023

ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Culture, Youth, Aging, Sports, and Parks, led by Senator Angel L. Bolques, Jr. convened in a meeting at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. Lawmakers received updates regarding the progress and challenges of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation concerning their projects and their mission to provide high quality, accessible programs, services, and facilities that enhance the quality of life for all ages, cultures, and abilities, as well as an overview and updates regarding AARP Virgin Islands and the programs offered in the territory.

In Block 1, testimony was delivered by the Honorable Calvert White, the Commissioner of the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation. In testimony delivered by White, he voiced being grateful that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) projects were steadily progressing to restore storm damaged facilities. The Department has received over $30 Million in FEMA grant funding for hurricane recovery projects. The Emile Griffith Ballpark on St. Thomas has a contractor on site and is estimated to be completed in September of 2023. Improvements to the ballpark will include renovations to the bathroom, which included ADA compliant stalls, new bleachers, new fencing on the left field and right field lines, and batting cage, a new press box, scoreboard, LED lighting system, revamped storage area, and a new office for the staff and afterschool area.

Construction at the Joseph Aubain ballfield is almost complete. Renovations include new fencing, a new batting cage with a pitching machine, renovations on the press box, a new scoreboard, and a new LED lighting system. The estimated completion of the renovations is September 2023. The Kerwin Terrace ballpark also has a contractor on site and is slated to receive new fencing, a new scoreboard, and a new LED lighting system. The Doris Hodge Tennis Courts contractor is making repairs to the concrete bleachers, roofing, restrooms, new fencing, umpire chairs, and light poles. Contractors bid on extensive repairs to the main building and concession, press box, new scoreboard, new fencing, and bleachers at the Alvin McBean facility.

Facilities in St. Croix that have been completed include the Isaac Boynes Ballfield, the Emile Henderson Basketball, and Rudy Krigger Sports Complex. To ensure the historical importance of the original Cramer’s Park concession was maintained, FEMA determined that no repairs to the exterior nor upgrades to the interior should be made and instructed DSPR to build a new concession stand in a different location. With assistance from the VI State Historic Preservation Officer (SPHO), $1.6 million was allotted to build a new concession at a new location. The contractor of Phase One of the Marley Beachfront Project has restored the concrete pillars on the promenade and is working to restore the concrete tables, benches, sidewalks, and handrails, and install new light poles. The selected contractor of the Frederiksted Waterfront Lighting project will restore missing coral stone, the pillars and chains on the waterfront and Vern Richards Park, and new LED inground fixtures.

The Department is in the final stages of the contracting phase of the Reinholdt Jackson project. This project will include fencing, a new scoreboard, and LED lighting system, and repairs to the bleachers, press box, dugouts, batting cage, and playground equipment. DC Canegata Recreational Complex, consisting of the baseball field, softball field, basketball and tennis courts, and recreation center, was split into three separate projects. Both fields will see new fence work, a new scoreboard on the big field, roof work on the seating area, and LED lighting systems. The recreation center will see hazard mitigation wind retrofit to strengthen the building and will include a permanent 60W generator.

The Department has three FEMA projects in St. John. The Winston Wells Ballfield is currently being utilized by the Virgin Islands Department of Education for modular classrooms. When the facility is returned to the Sports, Parks and Recreation, repairs will move forward. The A&E of the St. John Recreational Center in Cruz Bay is about 90% complete, with a cost estimate of about $10 million. The renovated facility will be utilized as a community safe room, specifically designed to resist wind pressure and wind-borne debris. There are a total of 51 DSPR FEMA projects.

There are two key projects that the Department is key in advancing. The construction of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in St. Croix is progressing. The Department of Public Works, and the Office of Disaster Recovery has been influential in ensuring that the contractor produces the deliverables. The second major project is the Vincent Mason Pool project. After the existing pool was demolished, it was found that the pool sat on piles and the design of the foundation needed to be revisited. New piles were added and increased the cost of the project from $2.5 million to $5million.

Resurfacing and restriping of tennis, basketball, and paddle ball courts has been done throughout the territory. Six courts in St. Croix are completed, including the DC Canegata Recreational Complex, consisting of the baseball field, softball field, basketball and tennis courts, and recreation center, was split into three separate projects. Both fields will see new fence work, a new scoreboard on the big field, roof work on the seating area, and LED lighting systems. The recreation center will see hazard mitigation wind retrofit to strengthen the building and will include a permanent 60W generator.

Senator Bolques inquired about the redevelopment of the Randall “Doc” James Horse Track on St. Croix; voicing community concern that permits from the company that would build the track were not seen. According to Commissioner Calvert White, VIGL has submitted modification applications, which was submitted earlier in April 2023, and currently sits at the Division of Coastal Zone Management at DPNR and is under review. Senator Bolques voiced further concern stating that this has left horse racing in limbo in the territory.

In Block 2, testimony was delivered by Troy de Chabert Schuster, the State Director of AARP Virgin Islands. Per testimony delivered by de Chabert Shuster, seniors represent the fastest growing segment of the population of the Virgin Islands. One fifth of the population is aged 50 and older. Per information via the most recent United States Census, by 2030, the number of seniors is expected to exceed the number of children in the United States. AARP has collaborated with legislators and administrators to implement policy changes intended to impact the lives of the aging population. AARP Virgin Islands advocated for the passage of a bill establishing the Commission of Aging within the Office of the Governor to help plan, promote and execute programs to meet present and future needs of aging in the territory, which was a bill supported by members of the Committee.

During the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, AARP Virgin Islands was among of stakeholders that lobbied for legislation to enhance COVID-19 response and recovery efforts to assist Virgin Islands Seniors and caregivers. Some successes included, a bill to establish the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) for the Virgin Islands that would create a multistate nursing license allowance for nurses seeking employment in the territory to address the staffing shortages; a policy change to the frequency of COVID-19 testing for nursing home staff as an essential measure to protect residents and staff; allowances made to include family caregivers in the Phase 1 priority group to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and a bill modernizing online documents permitting Electronic Wills and Remote Notaries as legal documents, providing access to essential services during social distance restrictions.

Furthermore, a recent AARP polling of registered voters in the US Virgin Islanders who are not government employees between the ages of 25 and 64 indicated that the vast majority of Virgin Islands residents are not financially prepared for retirements, with two thirds reporting dedicated support and agreeing that lawmakers should support legislation that makes it easier for non-government workers to save for retirements. AARP Virgin Islands is advocating the Legislature to support legislature that would create a public-private management retirement savings for businesses that help workers to grow their retirement savings. The most common of these models is an automatic IRA plan with Voluntary IRA.

AARP Virgin Islands has also prioritized increasing health care options and access to care for individuals. The focus will be on making long term care affordable and access through home-based services. This includes supporting telehealth, tax incentives for home-based care service providers, support for increased funding to the Medicaid program, and recruitment incentives for bedside care providers. AARP Virgin Islands has also focused on protecting seniors from fraud and abuse. AARP Virgin Islands has lobbied for changes to the USVI Elder Dependent Abuse & Prevention Act of 2008. This has included support for changes to the Adult Protective Services statutes related to their authority to substantiate claims of mistreatment of an at-risk adult, support for an Adult Abuse registry system, and mandatory criminal background reports for all healthcare providers, including home health aides.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Marvin A Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Diane T. Capehart, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Franklin D. Johnson.

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