During the first week of this month, assessments for cultural and environmental elements were performed for a record-breaking 420 projects
GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico – Aware of the great importance of Puerto Rico’s historic zones and cultural heritage, FEMA has in place an evaluation process performed by its Environmental and Historic Preservation branch, also known as EHP. This process aims to address the damage caused by Hurricane María, while encouraging measures to preserve the unique characteristics of the historic structures and assessing any potential effects to the environment.
These efforts seek to preserve elements that set these sites apart, like windows, doors, floors, lights and plaster work, among others. Likewise, part of the complexity of this stage in the granting of funds is considering archeological studies that may be necessary.
“The obligation of these funds for historic buildings is vital to protect our cultural heritage. When FEMA thinks about Puerto Rico's recovery, it focuses not only on rebuilding structures, but on being part of an effort to help the island regain its radiance, strength and stability. History and culture are essential in that process,” said Alex Amparo, Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Among the assessments of buildings with great significance is that of the Puerto Rico School of Fine Arts and Design, (EAPD, by its Spanish acronym). The facility, located in Old San Juan, was awarded nearly $152,000 for improvements and permanent work in its two buildings: the former asylum and the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción Hospital.
Built in 1850, the building that used to house the asylum, now part of the EAPD, received special attention to the wood beams located on the second story. When first erected, these beams were made of ausubo, a precious wood that is difficult to find. Close collaboration with the State Historic Preservation Office was key in determining what type of wood and finish preserve similar characteristics to the original. Both buildings are made of masonry and have wood beams and interior patios, typical of the construction at the time.
Besides repairs, a mitigation plan was also included in order to protect this iconic structure. “With FEMA’s financial support, we were able to repair both buildings. We have the responsibility to preserve these structures, which are the face of tourism in Puerto Rico because of their location,” said the Chancellor of the School of Fine Arts and Design, Ileana Muñoz-Landrón.
“Puerto Rico’s recovery is comprehensive and represents unprecedented challenges, such as recovering with great effort part of the historic and cultural heritage affected by Hurricane Maria,” said Ottmar Chavez, executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience, or COR3. “I appreciate all the effort so that recovery projects can continue to develop, allowing the island to be better positioned for future events.”
Meanwhile, the north side of the island also benefitted from these recent funds with nearly $95,000 awarded to the Hatillo Cultural Center. To rebuild this turn of the century building, FEMA and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture joined forces.
Together with cultural assessments, FEMA evaluates the location of each project to safeguard native animal species that may inhabit the area. The Old San Juan area, El Yunque, El Cibuco Tourism Center in Corozal, Camuy Caverns, Luis Muñoz Rivera Museum in Barranquitas, city halls in multiple municipalities, beaches and houses of worships of several religious denominations are just some of the sites that have undergone this process.
The EHP team is made up by 84 staff members, including biologists, archeologists, engineers, chemists, environmentalists, health professionals, historians and architects. “FEMA’s Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation staff, comprised mostly of Puerto Rican professionals, is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that projects comply with federal environmental and historic preservation laws, policies and executive orders. Through our compliance responsibilities, we encourage applicants to make repairs in ways that preserve the cultural legacy of Puerto Rico,” said Sindulfo Castillo, Director of the Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation Division in FEMA.
The main consideration when assessing historic sites is that projects are in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act. FEMA is currently working on about 400 projects that will benefit the future generations who will inherit and safeguard the island’s historic treasures.
For more information on Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane María, visit fema.gov/disaster/4339 and recovery.pr. You can also follow FEMA’s and COR3’s social networks on Facebook.com/FEMAPuertoRico, Facebook.com/COR3pr and Twitter @COR3pr.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362) 711/VRS - Video Relay Service). Multilingual operators are available. (Press 2 for Spanish). TTY call 800-462-7585.