FEMA approves $142M+ for Puerto Rico schools affected by earthquakes
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocated more than $24.4 million during October and November to repair and reinforce several schools in Puerto Rico’s southern and western regions that experienced structural damage caused by the 2020 earthquakes.
To date, more than $142 million has been obligated to the Puerto Rico Education Department for 115 permanent work projects that address damage related to the tremors, the federal agency stated.
Due to the extent of structural damage that the earthquakes caused, most of the allocated funds will be used for mitigation works such as installing supports and steel structural reinforcements to protect the buildings in case of a future seismic event.
“Investing in construction works related to education has a ripple effect in Puerto Rico’s recovery. Although it’s true that the construction industry plays a vital role in any country’s economy, when the works relate to education, the impact is even greater because the education of children and youths is one of our most important assets, it’s the future of Puerto Rico,” said FEMA Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico José G. Baquero.
The funds include nearly $1.2 million to repair the Segundo Ruiz Belvis elementary school — built during the 1940’s — more than $2.7 million for the Eugenio María de Hostos High School and nearly $3.9 million for the Dr. Pedro Perea Fajardo Vocational Superior Public School, all located in Mayagüez. The three campuses have a combined enrollment of some 1,870 students who will benefit from the reconstructed spaces, FEMA noted.
“School infrastructure improvement work is at the top of our work agenda through our reconstruction office,” said Education Acting Secretary Eliezer Ramos-Parés.
“We’ve moved forward with several bids of these projects, which will allow permanent improvements to begin at the schools. Our vision is to make school environments safe and comfortable in a way that facilitates better outcomes for our students,” he said.
Another school building that was earmarked to receive federal funding was the Josefa Vélez Bauzá High School at the Cotto neighborhood in Peñuelas. This is the only high school in town and the third in the southern region with the greatest school enrollment, with more than 700 students. With the obligation of nearly $2.9 million, funds were budgeted to reinforce shear walls and columns with steel beams and supports.
“This is the best news I’ve received,” said the school’s Director, Miguel Rodríguez. “The school is a safe area, the only space where we provide meals and safety to many students. Also, this allows us to continue the expansion that we had planned.”
Peñuelas Mayor Gregory Gonsález-Souchet said the funding allocation for school repairs is fundamental in the municipality’s reconstruction efforts.
“We’re aware that each project takes time. We’re confident that the reconstruction of our schools will be carried out in a short time and that our youth will be able to return to their classrooms regularly,” the mayor said.
The funding approved for Ponce schools includes nearly $2.1 million for the Eugenio Le Compte Benitez, more than $2.1 for the Manuel González Pató Middle School at la Rambla urbanization, $1.9 million for Bethzaida Velázquez Andújar High School at the Las Delicias sector and more than $1.4 million for Aurea E. Rivera Collazo Elementary School, located at the El Madrigal neighborhood.
All four schools have similar damage — cracked walls and columns and damage to their façade and common areas. As in the other schools, most of the allocation will cover mitigation works to reinforce the columns and shear walls to reduce possible damage in case of a future earthquake.
The multi-million-dollar obligation will have a “significant impact not only on the earthquake recovery process, but also on the lives of thousands of students who are eager to resume their school life by returning to their classrooms,” said Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) Executive Director Manuel Laboy.
“Our team at COR3 will continue to assist in these efforts to provide school communities with resilient and safe spaces that allow for the socioeconomic development of Puerto Rico,” he said.