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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

FEMA approves $10.7 million for historic Old San Juan architecture

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

By The Star Staff

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

The structures are the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Santa Ana Church and Santo Cristo de la Salud Chapel, all of which are part of the National Registry of Historic Properties.

The cultural and historical value of the buildings is incalculable, underscoring the importance of repairing the damage caused by Hurricane Maria and restoring spaces of great significance for Puerto Rico. Historian José Marull del Río of the State Office of Historic Preservation said Santa Ana Church, for example, once housed five oval works featuring saints of the Order of Mercy, created by Puerto Rican painter José Campeche. It is also the only current example of an urban structure of its kind from the 19th century.

The San Juan Cathedral also stands out, as the oldest in the country and the second oldest in America. The construction of the Chapel of Christ, meanwhile, dates back 270 years.

“These facilities are important spaces of Puerto Rican history and identity,” Federal Disaster Recovery, Coordinator José G. Baquero said. “The assignment from our Environmental and Historical Conservation division is one of great impact, where we seek to address the damages taking into account the laws that protect structures like these, which are great examples of our heritage.”

Due to the historic characteristics of the structures, repairs must meet the U.S. Department of the Interior’s historic property rehabilitation standards. Those guidelines are used to determine the type of treatment -- whether preservation, rehabilitation, restoration or reconstruction -- that will be applied based on the level of the historical significance of the facility and the use and condition of the structure.

Repairs already completed for all three facilities include lime plaster, brick slabs and flooring, stairs, wooden supports and doors. Part of the pending work includes resurfacing roofs and replacing electrical conduits and wiring, floor tiles and chandeliers. Plaster, stained glass and windows will also be repaired, and interiors and exteriors will be painted, among other tasks.

For St. John Cathedral, about $177,000 of its reconstruction funds are for mitigation measures: roof waterproofing will be reinforced, a layer will be applied over clear glass windows to prevent cracks and breaks, and impact-resistant non-reflective panels will be installed to protect the stained glass windows. The repairs seek to strengthen the structure so that it does not suffer similar damage during future atmospheric events.

Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Executive Director Manuel A. Laboy Rivera encouraged faith-based organizations to request funds through Working Capital Advance “for the development of projects that will provide resilience to the infrastructure and contribute to preserving its historical and cultural value.”

To date, FEMA has committed nearly $30.4 billion in public assistance funds for more than 10,600 rebuilding projects with an emphasis on increasing resiliency.

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