Good Day Everyone! For those of you in communities all over the country, you likely have access to a public library. A space to read, a space to research…A place for children to grow their minds and imaginations. A place for creativity and story telling hours. Well, the historic building that houses the public library here on St. John has not had its doors open to the community since the 2017 hurricanes, with the exception of a short stint in 2018-2019. And this weekend, the community of St. John will stand up to demand the doors of this incredible structure be re-opened to the public.
First, I want to talk a little about this beautiful, historic building that houses the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum. This building is one of the oldest on St. John and was once at the center of a bustling plantation. In addition to the great house, which is now the library, there was a cookhouse, thirty homes for enslaved workers, a sick house, a sugar factory with a boiling room, a rum still, horse mill, storage house and curing house (St. John; Off the Beaten Track).
The now bright yellow structure with green shutters, white railings and astute architectural elements was originally home to John Wood, owner of the Enighed Plantation, in the heart of Cruz Bay and was in the Wood family from about 1750 until about 1790. The estate changed hands several times throughout the 1800’s and in the early 20th century a fire damaged the building. Intermittently inhabited and then left abandoned once again, the estate was sold to the municipality in the 1940’s…
The government disposed of most of the land of the estate after the purchase, but retained the .6 acre lot on which the “burnt out structure” stood and still stands today. It remained unoccupied and lay in ruin until the 1970’s.
On July 1, 1976, the abandoned building, which was once the great house of the Enighed Estate, was added to the National Registry of Historical places. After finding that the space was not suitable for St. John’s needs for a community center, it was decided that it would be made a library. Something the island desperately needed then. And still needs today.
In 1979, building materials began to arrive and the restoration of the historic structure began. And in 1980, the US Virgin Islands Government honored Ms. Elaine Ione Sprauve for her service to the community of the Virgin Islands by naming the library in her honor. And the doors to St. John’s first and only library were opened to the public. (Research for the historical background of this building was derived from USVI Public Libraries.)
Over the years, the Sprauve Library has not only contained educational resources in the form of books and, later, a computer center…This historical building was also the home to a cultural museum for the people of St. John.
Fast forward to present day “history…”
This chronological account MAY be a bit shaky as far as I can find with research. If you have information that conflicts with this, please let me know! But what I can derive is the following as a timeline:
- 2015- Carol McGuinness, Librarian of 23 years on St. John, left her position and Ashley Till took over in May of that year.
- August 2016 – Ashley Till resigns
- August 2016-September of 2017- St. Thomas Librarians fill in on St. John to keep the library open
- 2017- At the annual meeting on Jan 30, 2017 Dr Elroy Sprauve suggested the Friends of the Elaine I Sprauve Library raise money for a scholarship in library science. Dee Brown from Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) was in attendance and said CFVI would help administer the scholarship . It was voted to establish a scholarship for a MLS or Information Technology degree. Dr Sprauve would help form a committee to develop parameters for the scholarship.
- 2017- The Friends of the Library board signed an agreement on August 1, 2018 with CFVI to administer the scholarship within the agreed requirements of the scholarship.
- September 2017- Hurricane Irma hits the territory. The library is closed for six months.
- January 2018- Carla Sewer named librarian and given the scholarship to complete her Master of Library Sciences
- January 2019- Senator Payne and the STJ community address library concerns with clean up, donation of one air conditioner and repair of another and a local contractor fixes the exterior door leading to the handicap ramp. Island Administrator, Shikima Jones Sprauve and Senator Payne worked with Viya to reconnect the internet and telephone services.
- January 2019- Sewer leaves her position as librarian. Library remains closed after small repairs and updates due to lack of staffing.
- April, 2020 – Funding for library repairs obligated from FEMA Public Assistance
- March 2021- DPW Scope of Work released
- April, 2021- Bids for repairs and reconstruction go out to contractors.
- November 2021- New librarian hired for St. John
- February 2022- Construction begins.
In a St. Thomas Source article dated February of 2019 Arlene Pinney-Benjamin, acting director of the Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums, said, “DPNR does anticipate funding its projects at the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum of Cultural Arts, through federal and local appropriation and funding.”
And currently, the acclaimed damages from Hurricanes Irma and Maria are under repair. FEMA Public Assistance Funding to the tune of $252K was obligated to the restoration and repairs of the historic Sprauve library in April of 2020 according to an email I received from Laurissa Ellis in the Office of Disaster Recovery dated August 22, 2022.
The Sprauve Library was initially obligated in April 2020 for $252K. The scope was developed, and the project went out to bid in April 2021. It then proceeded through the contracting queues, and construction began in February 2022. The project is approximately 70% complete and additional scope is in development for work not covered by FEMA.
The estimated project cost is $296,919 according to the Priority Projects page under the Public Buildings tab on the Disaster Recovery website. With a historic building such as this one, The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) also consults on the restoration and repairs. According to the same email from Ms. Ellis, “SHPO approval was needed and granted to install the handicap access buttons.”
But, the entire scope of work from the Department of Public Works (DPW) website also states that the paint type of both the building and the new shutters needed to be approved by both DPW and SHPO:
Pressure-wash the exterior surface of the library and repaint the surfaces in-kind with the approval of DPW and SHPO. – DPW Scope of Work
All exterior shutters shall be stripped, seal with water sealant and painted to match the historic
color.- DPW Scope of Work
Additionally, the scope of work mentions lighting fixtures and poles that need to line up with the historical design of the building. It also lists new security cameras, roofing, lamp sconces, air conditioning, landscaping, ADA accessibility features (interior and exterior), shutters and additional interior and exterior updates in the outline of repairs to the building.
The Elaine Sprauve Library reconstruction project was scheduled to begin in February of 2022, after Federal funding was secured and bids had gone out to contractors. And it DID start on time with a scheduled completion date of May 2022. That date was extended to August 1, 2022 when Currently, according to Shikima, the interior is pretty well ready to go with a new ADA compliant handicap bathroom and a ramp on the lower level of the interior.
The new roofing is completed and, as of last week the building had been replastered but work had halted as they waited for the delivery of the specific paint to be used (whether that is color to match the historical façade or a specific type of paint, I am not sure).
According to Amy Parker De Sorbo, the territorial director of DPNR’s Division of Libraries, Museums, and Archives, in a St. Thomas Source article about the upcoming protest, “equipment delivery delays” have kept the construction from moving forward.
The Open the St. John Library protest that is scheduled for tomorrow morning from 9AM-12PM at the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum has been coordinated by frustrated community members due to the several years of St. John’s only library remaining closed. But also due to the months of inactivity on the job site while scaffolding still surrounds the abandoned building and the library grounds remain in disrepair.
In addition to standing up for the re-opening of the doors of our community library, Erin Lieb, co-coordinator of the protest, said that there will be a clean up of the grounds coordinated by Get Trashed St. John and a story time with co-host and former librarian, Carla Sewer. Erin encourages everyone to bring a book to exchange, a sign to promote the re-opening and a library story to share with the group.
The schedule for tomorrow’s event is as follows:
- 9AM- Gather at the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library
- 10AM- Storytime with Carla Sewer
- 10:30AM- Trash clean up
The following businesses and organizations are donating in support of the protest:
- The Animal Care Center has opened the doors to participants for the use of their bathrooms for the morning
- The Island Green ReSource Depot is donating books to share and exchange
- Santos Laundromat is donating ice
- Love City Fresh has donated gloves for the trash cleanup
Last week, photos were circulated of a frenzy of work being done on the library. Painters and landscapers were hard at work around the grounds and on the scaffolding. Not for nothin, but sometimes when you say a thing, things start to happen. The organization behind this protest may or may not have had anything to do with this week’s ramp up of work around this historic property that was once a thriving estate during the early days of St. John. Either way, thank you SO MUCH to Erin and Carla for coordinating this event and putting the energy in to a community cause that you are passionate about. And thank you to Shikima, for listening and lighting figurative fires under people when your constituents are frustrated and speaking out. 🙂
Over one hundred community members have responded as going or interested to the Open the St. John Library Facebook event. If you are on island tomorrow, Saturday, August 27, please join us in a peaceful gathering in order to promote the re-opening of the doors of St. John’s library. If you are not here on St. John this weekend, stand in solidarity with us. Visit your local library for a few hours and post a picture in the event page. Oh, and take a look at the form below and insert your ideas in the comments! I’ll be sharing them with Erin and Carla after the event 🙂
Here’s hoping that the next library gathering will be a beautiful grand opening event in the very near future!