At ICP’s workshop school, students will learn how to rescue island’s historical buildings heritage

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

With the mission to protect, restore and promote years of history in local architecture, the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture (ICP by its Spanish initials) on Thursday launched the Puerto Rico Historical Heritage Conservation and Restoration Workshop School.

ICP Executive Director Carlos Ruiz Torres said that after a year of planning, the school’s launch is important because it will help bring the construction and architecture industry back to life to protect the history behind Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, at a time when the island has faced recent catastrophic events such as hurricanes Irma and Maria and the earthquakes that shook the southern region.

“In the following months, we will be able to see and execute what will be a great plan that will help protect and restore historical building heritage for future generations,” Ruiz Torres said.

“All of this will be possible with the minds of Puerto Ricans who are interested in this craft.”

Pablo Ojeda, director of the ICP’s Historical Building Heritage Program, said the school is a long-term education project “that aspires to create decent and specialized jobs” by teaching and certifying students through training and apprenticeship programs that take at least two years to complete and are supported by the United States Department of Labor.

Ojeda added that the workshop school will be the first of its kind in Puerto Rico.

“It will help certified students to obtain job opportunities both in and outside Puerto Rico, even though our intentions are for our alumni to stay here and rescue back our heritage,” he said.

“This school is what we needed to be able to really carry out and culminate the ministerial work that the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture has been entrusted with for almost 65 years to conserve and preserve our heritage,” the architect said.

Likewise, Ojeda said another objective for the institution is to involve practitioners in disciplines such as archaeology, history and anthropology in the project.

“This is not a passing project, nor is it a one-time show, this is an additional alternative education system so that our youth can have an opportunity for a specialized job,” he said.

“The intention of launching the workshop school is to also create a center of ideas, research, a hub where we can finally, in Puerto Rico, have a place where we can join all the efforts that we know are happening in the country in terms of heritage.”

Héctor Berdecía, the school’s general coordinator, said one of the goals is to transform the establishment into “an academic-vocational institution” as the administration wants to promote the intersection of work within the historical heritage field, such as science, culture and academic research.

“We’re looking to get our students to learn with hands-on projects, as our mission is to offer training in traditional jobs, to [have an] impact in the social and economic sector, and to expand collaborations with the United States and the Caribbean islands,” Berdecía said, noting that the only requirement for enrollment is to have a high school diploma.

When the Star asked how the workshop school was going to fund its operations given that the ICP is confronting financial difficulties under the harsh budget cuts imposed by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Ojeda said the school was allocated $1.5 million through grants and recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as students and faculty are expected to work hands-on with the restoration of historical buildings that were damaged in recent natural disasters.

“What is going to give long-term sustainability to the workshop school is that we are going to request work and we are going to provide consulting, we are going to enter the [branch of the] construction industry that specializes in historical heritage,” he said. “That element by which we are going to be able to act and, therefore, have an income, is what is going to give us that flexibility and that independence from not knowing what is going to happen every year.”

Ojeda emphasized that the institution is incorporated as a non-profit organization, which will help it thrive without depending on the central government.

“Even though the workshop school is attached to the ICP at this moment, our goal is to not be a burden to the institute in the future,” he said.

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