FEMA assigns $24.4 million for quake-hit schools
By The Star Staff
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocated over $24.4 million during October and November to repair and reinforce various schools in the southern and western regions of Puerto Rico that experienced structural damage caused by the 2020 earthquakes.
To date, over $142 million has been obligated to the Puerto Rico Department of Education for 115 permanent work projects that address damage related to the tremors.
Due to the amount of structural damage caused by the earthquakes, 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,” said José G. Baquero, the FEMA federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico. “Although it’s true that the construction industry plays a vital role in any country’s economy, when the work relates to education, the impact is even greater.”
The funds include nearly $1.2 million to repair Segundo Ruiz Belvis elementary school – built during the 1940s – over $2.7 million for Eugenio María de Hostos High School and nearly $3.9 million for Dr. Pedro Perea Fajardo Vocational Superior Public School, all three located in Mayagüez. Between the three campuses there is an enrollment of some 1,870 students who will benefit from the reconstruction.
“School infrastructure improvement work is at the top of our work agenda through our Reconstruction Office,” Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés said. “We have moved forward with several bidding processes for these projects, which will allow permanent improvements to begin at the schools.”
Another school building that was earmarked to receive federal funding was Josefa Vélez Bauzá High School in the Cotto neighborhood of Peñuelas. It is the only high school in town and has the third-highest enrollment in the southern region with more than 700 students. With an 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.”
In addition, funding approved to Ponce includes nearly $2.1 million for Eugenio Le Compte Benítez School, over $2.1 for Manuel González Pató Middle School in la Rambla urbanization, $1.9 million for Bethzaida Velázquez Andújar High School in the Las Delicias sector and over $1.4 million for Aurea E. Rivera Collazo Elementary School in the El Madrigal neighborhood.
All four schools have similar damage – broken walls and columns and damage to their facade and common areas. As with the other schools, most of the allocation will cover mitigation work to reinforce the columns and shear walls to reduce possible damage in case of a future earthquake.