Cali ‘Schools for Resilience’ Engagement


For the past two years, the city of Cali, Colombia, has led an intensive program to improve its public school system entitled My Community My School. Championed by Mayor Maurice Armitage and managed by the city’s Chief Resilience Officer, Vivian Argueta, the program focuses on strengthening the quality and relevance of public education in both rural and urban schools by integrating improvements to facilities and curriculum. The initiative is focused on benefits not only to students, but also teachers, directors and surrounding communities.

In February 2018, 100 Resilient Cities partnered with Cali to host a ‘CoLab’ workshop on school infrastructure resilience. The objective was to develop a set of design and operational recommendations for school infrastructure resilience that would inform the city’s school improvement program, and to identify related efforts the city could pursue to enhance the resilience of its school system. The CoLab emphasized the vulnerability of the city’s school infrastructure to seismic and flood risk and highlighted a gap in the city’s program in addressing these risks.

The World Bank, as a result of their participation in the CoLab workshop, committed to providing free technical assistance to implement their Roadmap for Safer Schools, a technical program that results in a long-term investment plan for school infrastructure. Through this program, Cali has prioritized safety improvements and modernization, including expanding public school facilities to comply with national capacity standards at an estimated cost of $2.7 trillion COP. The investment plan requires replacing 69% of existing school buildings and will be paid for primarily with city funding.

As a result of the significant new construction required in the investment plan, the city has decided to develop a ‘catalog’ for new, permanent school infrastructure that will translate national standards to local conditions and ensure quality and efficiency through the creation of standards and process guidelines. The catalog will be comprised of building and site typologies, as well as planning, design and programmatic guidance for early childhood education centers, primary schools and secondary schools. The catalog will apply to the diverse terrain and varying rural and urban contexts within the municipality. The city commissioned a team of six local architecture and engineering consultants to develop the catalog by the fall of 2019.

Cali Engagement and Cristobal Colon School Case Study

In May 2019, 100RC convened a team of international and Colombia-based partners to support the consultant team in co-developing a resilient conceptual framework for the catalog. The team consisted of experts from Perkins + Will, AECOM, WSP, Build Change and Save the Children, who offered their services on a pro-bono basis.

During the course of a 3-day workshop in Cali, the team developed a strategic approach for the overall Catalog, mapped out key features and components, and aligned on overarching resilience objectives for new school projects. Site visits and planning sessions informed collaboration on the conceptual framework for the Catalog.

The team came to the conclusion that due to the diverse set of site, social, and programmatic conditions across the portfolio of public schools in the city, it would be challenging to design a limited set of ‘model’ schools or rep­licable typologies for the Catalog. Instead, the Catalog should document a planning and design process that could apply across a diverse range of conditions and provide guidance and decision-making support for the design of a variety of schools. As means of reducing the complex and co­lossal task of developing the Catalog to something more manageable in a short timeframe, the team also decided to focus on developing a concep­tual design for one existing school location in the city (the ‘case study’) and to work side-by-side with the city to document the process for the Catalog between May and July 2019.

The existing school selected to serve as the case study for the 100 Resilient Cities partner team engagement is the Cristobal Colon School, which is located in the 16th district of Cali (Comuna 16) and serves approximately 716 students in Grades 5-11 in two shifts daily. The student body is highly diverse. There is a large Afro-Colombian population and several students from families that have been displaced from the western rural areas of the country due to violence. The school also hosts literacy and IT training courses for adults on weekends. The Cristobal Colon School was selected for the case study because it presents a number of conditions and constraints that the team collectively felt were important to study and to identify approaches to address because they apply to many schools within the city including limited site size, recreational space deficiencies, interior environment deficiencies, drainage challenges, structural vulnerabilities, needs for integration with the surrounding community and high maintenance costs.

The 100RC partner team, led by Perkins + Will, AECOM and WSP, developed design concepts, visual representation and guidance for the selected school site which is documented in the Schools for Resilience: Cristóbal Colón School Case Study report.

“The design process highlighted throughout the Cristóbal Colón report shows how we can solve some of the greatest challenges that schools in Cali currently face,” explains Vivian Argueta, Cali’s Chief Resilience Officer. “How do we build educational infrastructure that is less vulnerable to seismic events, flooding, and other natural hazards? How do we make use of Cali’s abundant rainfall, breeze, and sunshine to design schools that are more comfortable and use less energy and water? How do we integrate schools with nearby green areas, sports facilities and communal spaces? These are some of the questions that the Cristóbal Colón case study helped us elucidate, and these are the same questions that the city will have to ask itself repeatedly as it makes its school portfolio safer and more resilient in the next 12 years.”

Cali’s Planning Department is currently creating a Masterplan for Educational Facilities. The masterplan is a complement to the city’s land-use plan and will institutionalize the school infrastructure plan developed with support from the World Bank, thus guiding the municipality’s investments in educational infrastructure during the next 12 years. The concepts developed for the Cristóbal Colón case study – especially those related to resilience and bioclimatic design – will be key components of the official design catalog that the city will use throughout this 12-year period to renovate and expand its educational infrastructure.