That’s according to Julia Keleher, the U.S territory’s education secretary. To be precise, she put the total cost of repairing the island’s 856 public schools, and bringing them up to school building standards which until recently didn’t exist, at $11 billion. For perspective, that’s more than one-seventh of the U.S. Department of Education’s total operating budget for this fiscal year.
The secretary has categorized the work into different buckets. Initially, Keleher said she has to try to get roughly $100 million in unspent Federal Emergency Management Agency Category B funds (think immediate health and safety work) released, in order to do things like mold remediation in schools. But that work will have to wait until the summer because, as she put it, “I can’t remediate mold, paint, and repair roofs while kids are in building. I don’t have any place to put them.”
Then, Keleher said she will use $1 billion in FEMA Category E money (think structural, longer-term work) to do construction work at 64 schools. Generally speaking, these schools are intended to be a representative sample of older and new buildings in a variety of environments, in order to give the island’s Department of Education an idea of how much it will cost to fix different types of schools. Throughout this process, she said officials will also need answers to questions about the extent to which communities want to be involved, and where students are sent while their regular school buildings are getting repaired.
Keleher estimated that at minimum, the $11 billion worth of work on schools will take three years, but said a better estimate is probably about seven years.