• The San Juan Daily Star

Public school renovations under FEMA program begin in Aibonito

Aibonito Mayor William Alicea Pérez

By John McPhaul

Rebuilding public schools on the island that were damaged by Hurricane Maria is underway with an obligation of over $2.9 million in federal funds to the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) for Dr. José N. Gándara School in Aibonito, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Tuesday in a press release.

It is the first allocation of funds that authorizes construction for a PRDE project for a specific school under FEMA’s Accelerated Awards Strategy, known as FAASt.

Work at the high school, which has roughly 500 students and offers vocational studies, includes roof repairs, replacing lighting in the classrooms and throughout the facility as well as building a concrete ramp for people with access and functional needs.

“The unprecedented obligation to the Department of Education last year was an important first step in ensuring public education facilities are rebuilt resiliently,” said José G. Baquero, FEMA’s federal disaster recovery coordinator in Puerto Rico. “Working closely with the government of Puerto Rico, we will see how this translates into shovels in the ground and more resilient educational facilities for our future generations.”

One of the fields of study offered at the high school is pre-engineering, which contributed to the educational development of Héctor Gabriel González Rivera, a member of the PR-CuNaR2 team that developed the first Puerto Rican satellite that was recently launched into space under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) ELaNa37 project.

“The funds obligated are of the utmost importance to repair damage at the school, which is the only school in Aibonito that offers vocational programs,” González Rivera said. “Repairing the affected classrooms is necessary for the students.”

Aibonito Mayor William Alicea Pérez expressed how valuable it will be for students to have a repaired school facility, which is the ideal environment for learning.

“It is an honor that one of our schools is chosen for this allocation of funds and the eventual construction of permanent improvements,” the mayor said. “Our vision is that the improvements to this school will make it an appealing school for both Aiboniteños and students from neighboring towns.”

Regarding the allocation for the school, acting Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés emphasized the government agency’s commitment to improving the infrastructure of all schools on the island.

“We have begun working hand in hand with FEMA and various partner agencies with the goal of speeding up the reconstruction work at each campus,” Ramos Parés said. “The PRDE’s Reconstruction Office has the inventory of the needs of each school and is leading efforts to obtain the funds and begin the necessary work.”

Under the PRDE’s FAASt strategy, statistical samplings were used to develop costs in order to streamline the obligations of funds that will help restore more than 5,300 buildings and auxiliary facilities such as recreational areas and pavilions. To date, FEMA has obligated over $2.5 billion to the PRDE, which includes emergency and permanent projects related to Hurricane Maria.

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