On 2 November the largest primary school on the Bahamian Island of Abaco will reopen for the first time since September 2019, when it was severely damaged by Hurricane Dorian.
Central Abaco Primary School (CAPS), which hosted 813 students, was put out of action when the record-breaking hurricane struck Abaco on 1 September 2019, destroying infrastructure across the island. In January 2020, a team of local workers and contractors, led by two project managers from US-based non-profit GER3, began reconstruction on the school, and it has been completed less than a year later.
CAPS has been rebuilt to meet official hurricane shelter standards, and its safety was tested during Hurricane Isaias, which hit Abaco in August 2020. During the storm, the primary school safely sheltered 30 individuals and sustained no damage. Although a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic means children will not yet be able to attend classes, the completion of the school is a milestone in Abaco’s recovery.
Head Foreman Benson Danquah said:
“We've done extensive work to make the school safer. We realised that the worst of the damage was caused by the lack of hurricane straps and trusses on the roofs, and we’ve now strengthened the roofs in every single classroom.
“GER3 has really lifted the morale of the population in Abaco. Right after the destruction, GER3 was the only organization employing large amounts of local people. We had around 60 people working for GER3 at such a critical time. When we were all down in morale and struggling financially, GER3 was able to sustain the workers on the job.”
Reilly Dooris, GER3’s Program Director for The Bahamas, said:
“Central Abaco Primary School is ready to welcome back pupils as soon as the lockdown lifts. We are grateful that we have been able to keep working with the Bahamian community throughout the pandemic, in keeping with our aim of bridging the gap between relief and reconstruction.
“In building back better, we looked at every detail to make sure the school can resist even the strongest hurricanes. The new resilient infrastructure includes aerodynamic roofs, which allow strong winds to flow over the roof instead of lifting it, and hurricane straps and clips to protect the building.”
With sustainability in mind, GER3 has also prepared the school’s roofs for solar panels, which will be installed by the Rocky Mountain Institute. The rebuilt school also has a circular sanitation system and a rain-water harvesting and collection network.
Building Back Better
The completed CAPS will operate as an official hurricane shelter. In March 2020, a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that prior to Hurricane Dorian, government-sanctioned shelters on Abaco had space for just 1,676 individuals - less than 10% of the island’s population. The IOM called on the Bahamian government to prioritize the full repair of CAPS, which has capacity for 1,200 people.
With support from the Bahamian Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) and Ministry of Public Works, GER3 has installed a number of systems to keep people safe in the event of a future disaster, including blocking, hurricane strapping, lateral bracing, a permanent backup generator, and interior bathrooms accessible via inter-classroom doorways throughout each wing.
Richard Bruneau, Engineer for Ministry of Public Works on Abaco, praised the team’s ‘expertise, attention to detail and quality of work’.
GER3 is also:
- Training local community representatives as shelter managers, using a Bahamian government-sanctioned curriculum.
- Providing shelters across the island with essential emergency items such as generators, cots, first aid kits, and flashlights
- Supporting the rehabilitation of 15 hurricane-damaged homes belonging to the most vulnerable community members in the area
GER3 is a non-profit organization which specializes in providing relief, recovery and reconstruction services to disaster-affected communities. Work on Abaco has been funded by UNICEF, UNDP, The Lyford Cay Foundations, Discovery Land Company Foundation, One Bahamas Fund, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, and Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (AGOC).
Despite the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, GER3 has maintained a 3-person Global Response Team on the ground on Abaco throughout 2020. With the primary school completed, GER3 will now focus on its other programs on the island, including rehabilitating the Every Child Counts School, a school for individuals living with disabilities; several additional hurricane shelters and homes; as well as the repair of housing units for doctors and nurses working at the Marsh Harbour clinic. With COVID-19 forcing medical staff to work overtime, it is more important than ever that critical medical personnel are able to move back into safe, secure homes.
“The fact that the school has been reopened after just 14 months and amid a global pandemic is testament to the power of cooperation between government, non-profits and technical experts,” said Reilly Dooris.
“With support from our generous donors, guidance from the Bahamian government, and essential insights from the local community, we have been able to play a small part in Abaco’s path to recovery.”
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