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FEMA allocates $10.7M to repair 3 historic buildings in Old San Juan

Three centuries-old structures located in Old San Juan that are considered architectural jewels and house hundreds of years of history within their walls will be repaired with nearly $10.7 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

These structures include the Catedral de San Juan Bautista, Iglesia Santa Ana, and Capilla Santo Cristo de la Salud, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The cultural and historical value of these buildings is incalculable, which underscores the importance of repairing the damage caused by Hurricane María and restoring these spaces of great significance to Puerto Rico, FEMA stated.

For example, historian José Marull del Río from the State Historic Preservation Office explained that the Iglesia Santa Ana once housed five oval works featuring saints of the Order of Mercy, created by Puerto Rican painter José Campeche. It is also the only example of a 19th century urban structure of its kind.

Similarly, the Catedral de San Juan stands out as the oldest cathedral on the island and the second oldest in America. Moreover, the construction of the Capilla del Cristo dates back 270 years.

“These facilities are important spaces of Puerto Rican history and identity. The mission of our Environmental and Historic Preservation division is one of great impact, where we seek to address the damage while considering the laws that protect structures such as these, which are a great example of our heritage,” said federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José G. Baquero.

Due to the historic characteristics of the structures, repairs must comply with the Department of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties. These guidelines are used to determine the type of treatment — either preservation, rehabilitation, restoration or reconstruction — to be applied based on the level of historic significance of the facility and the use and condition the structure is in.

Completed repairs for the three facilities include lime plaster, brick slabs and flooring, stairs, wood supports and doors. Some of the pending work includes replacing the roof membrane, electrical conduit and wiring, floor tiles and chandeliers.

Plaster, stained glass and windows will also be repaired, and interior and exterior painting will be completed, among other work.

For the Catedral de San Juan, more than $177,000 of its reconstruction funds are for mitigation measures: The waterproofing of the roof will be reinforced, a coating will be applied to the clear glass windows to prevent cracks and breakage, and impact-resistant non-reflective panels will be installed to protect the stained-glass windows.

These repairs are intended to strengthen the structure so that it will not sustain similar damage during atmospheric events that may occur in the future.

“Our team is committed to continue supporting the subrecipients of faith-based organizations in the development of their reconstruction projects,” said the executive director of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), Manuel Laboy.

“I urge these organizations to apply for a Working Capital Advance for the development of works that will make the infrastructure resilient and help preserve its historical and cultural value,” he said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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