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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Official: Most of the island’s 800 public schools require renovation or repair

Enrique Questelle Pereira, director of the Department of Education’s Office of Infrastructure and Reconstruction

By The Star Staff

A majority of Puerto Rico’s 800 public schools need to be modernized or repaired, an Education Department official said Monday.

The House Government Committee held a hearing on House Resolution 197, which investigates the state of the reconstruction of the country’s schools after the passage of earthquakes and hurricanes.

The public hearing was attended by the director of the Department of Education’s (DE) Office of Infrastructure and Reconstruction, Enrique Questelle Pereira, who said the allocation of public funds, both federal and state, to cover the Stabilization and Reconstruction plans is subject to compliance with certain requirements prior to its use.

“Although the announcement of the allocation of certain funds has been made very close to the occurrence of natural events, this does not mean that the Education Department has had immediate access to the funds,” Questelle Pereira said.

Likewise, he noted that the Stabilization Plan is financed with funds for school emergencies and from COVID-19 relief funds.

“Some $547 million has been allocated to this plan and it consists of three pillars that address structural priorities of the schools: rehabilitation of ground zero, school safety (short columns) and improvement of the school environment,” the official said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency in January 2020 determined that 156 schools in 14 municipalities impacted by earthquakes were eligible for public assistance. In addition, Questelle Pereira said, for the return of classes in 2021 officials invested $77 million from state funds for repairs.

In turn, he said, around $31 million was allocated to the Public Buildings Authority and the Office for the Improvement of Public Schools to repair 132 schools.

The remaining $46 million was allocated to the Infrastructure Financing Authority for the construction of temporary school facilities in the municipalities of Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas and Yauco.

The department received an allocation of $276.8 million from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to repair schools with so-called short columns supporting them.

Currently, the public education system has 860 schools in operation, and within that number, 843 are K-12.

“To be honest, all of these DE schools are going to need some kind of work, whether it’s to modernize or deal with damage,” Questelle Pereira said.

“There are about a little fewer than 40 schools in critical condition. We are talking about closed schools,” he said. “Most of those 40 are from earthquake damage.”

For February, some 50 schools are expected to be repaired, and in March, about 100 schools.

“This is the most significant school infrastructure mitigation initiative with the largest investment in the history of Puerto Rico,” Questelle Pereira said.

To date, the engineer said, a total of 110 schools have been delivered, which represents 5,930 short columns repaired in 638 buildings.

“At the end of the 426 awarded schools, a total of 37,463 short columns in 2,683 buildings will have been addressed,” he said.

Under the initiative to improve the school environment, an investment of $193.5 million will be made in improvements to DE school facilities.

“This will have an impact of some type of improvement or repair in at least 400 schools, and the expectation is that this work will be completed by December 2022,” the official said.

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