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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Extent of rain damage to historical documents is yet to be determined

It still has not been determined whether the collections in the General Archive in San Juan suffered damage as a result of torrential rains last October.

By The Star Staff

The rehabilitation of the General Archive building damaged by the torrential rains of Oct. 27 of last year will not solve its severe structural problems, the union representing Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP by its Spanish initials) workers said.

The Utier Solidarity Program, also known as Prosol Utier, a union that represents ICP workers, said at a public hearing in the island House of Representatives that the work is just a “temporary patch” and that a prior $56 million investment in a structure that is not designed to be an archive for public and historical documents is unsustainable.

The coordinator of the organization, Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, said the ICP administration, “in response to our complaint, has publicly presented the current cleaning work as if it were a feat, instead of recognizing it as a periodic obligation within the processes of conservation and preservation.”

“The order of work is crucial because we know that the cooling towers have not yet been repaired, and the use of the rented ‘chiller’ is insufficient for the air conditioning necessary to protect the cleaning effort being carried out right now,” he added.

In response to questions from Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón, general archivist Hilda Ayala González acknowledged that the institution still has not determined whether the collections suffered damage after the October event.

Ayala González, who has directed the General Archive in San Juan since July 2020, said there has never been an inventory that documents the state of the collections and the building itself. However, the archivist announced that they intend to create an inventory list this year. She did not specify a date when she hopes to have it compiled.

“Rest assured that one of the first tasks we are going to carry out when the staff returns is that we are going to collect data on the status of the collection,” Ayala González emphasized. “For me, it is essential to document how the collections are now.”

In an explanatory memo, the chief archivist noted that cleaning and spraying work began on Jan. 3 to eliminate “most” of the fungal spores in the environment. According to conservation standards, the procedure involves the cleaning and spraying of service areas and surfaces.

The collections, Ayala González said, will be cleaned without using chemicals and only vacuumed with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorbing) filter or isopropyl alcohol if necessary. As for the main building, the cleaning and spraying work ended on Jan. 15, and they are waiting to complete the cleaning of the documentary collection deposits.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the ICP received $419,864 on Nov. 30, 2023, to address any damages in the archive. In January, the ICP requested $212,000 to continue addressing the emergency that the Financial Oversight and Management Board had authorized.

Ayala González stated that this last item of funds will be used, specifically, to extend the use of the transformer rented by the General Archive, which costs up to $42,000 per month. The archivist estimated that the money would be enough to rent the transformer for five months, so they will need to make a new request for funds.

She confirmed that purchasing a new transformer could take more than a year. The request for funds has not yet been issued because they are still collecting expert information from different companies to obtain a description and price of the equipment.

LUMA Energy, represented by José Pérez Vélez, said the internal substation that provides electricity to the General Archive was not maintained, so power could not be restored in the building on the day of the emergency.

“It is not relieving our responsibility or anyone’s responsibility. It is simply that the substation also had some situations that had to be improved,” Pérez Vélez pointed out. “I think there are a host of situations.”

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