Marianas looking for funds to keep 130-year old convent

San Francisco de Borja church, Songsong Village, Rota island. Photo ©

THE Northern Marianas Humanities Council and the Historic Preservation Office are looking for local funding to save the 130-year-old Convento in Rota, which has been standing since the late Spanish period.

According to the Council’s executive director Scott Russell, there has been request over the last 20 years to demolish the building because it may be a safety-threat to students.
The Convento is situated in Songsong village and it stood next to a private school, Eskuelan San Francisco de Borja.

A few years back, Russell said Bishop Emeritus Tomas Aguon Camacho approached the council and expressed his desire to have the building destroyed.

“But we had it architecturally evaluated and it seems to be the most intact Spanish-era building anywhere in the Marianas, including Guam.”

The Convento was built in the 1890s, according to Russell.

“In Songsong village, we have a modern church that is built where the old church used to be and then you have the Convento and you have the casa real, and in the middle is the plaza.”

Russel said it is the only place in the Marianas to have a Spanish colonial lay out. He explained that in the Spanish colonial time, they have a plaza, the church and the convent and the casa real – a government building.

“You have the State and the Church representatives in one area.”

Russell suggested earlier to temporarily secure the building with plywood so the kids could not get in the area.

“Then, we will do some plan and figure what it might have cost to restore the Convento.”

He said the restoration will include the main part of the building – the basic four walls and the steps. The concrete additions added on to the structure which are not historically significant would be removed to get back to the main rectangular shape of the building.

According to Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands HPO archeologist James Pruitt, there is still no plan in regards to the building. He said there was a group from Rota that came to the office.
“I believe they want the same thing. It is a safety hazard and they want to demolish it.”

Pruitt explained that “the official stand of HPO has not changed. It shouldn’t be demolished. It is a significant structure. We should look at every possibility to save, preserve, rehabilitate or restore a structure. We want to see if there is any interest locally in trying to produce money to do one of those actions or wait for another 20 years.”

Russell is also looking at the Spanish government to help the Council and the HPO in their effort to save the building. He said in 1999, Spain invited delegations from the NMI – which he was a part of – and from Pacific colonies, including the Philippines and other parts of Micronesia.

“There was a declaration that emphasized on preserving remnants of Spain’s past and one of the things that was identified was the Convento because it is important to the Spanish period. There still may be a way to revive that agreement with Spain that may be some interest to help us out,” Russell said.

He admitted that the main challenge is the funding.

“It would be expensive when you are doing a restoration. If you are restoring it, you have to do it carefully and use the same historical materials in the same way they built it 120 or 130 years ago – the roofing and all kinds of stuff. That would expensive, as opposed to renovation. If you renovate you just fix it up.”

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  1. Pingback: Marianas looking for funds to keep 130-year old convent – Duterte Daily

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