Special Report: Reconstruction After Earthquake
CHENGDU, April 28 (Xinhua) -- His son might have
survived the Sichuan earthquake, had such school buildings been available at the
As Song Guobin worked on the construction site of a
new school in the Leigu Township of southwest Sichuan province, his feelings
"The new school buildings are definitely stronger,"
he said, pointing at a pillar. "If only my boy could study in such a building as
this." In the background, more than 100 workers were busy finishing the
three-story building, which is set to open on May 12, the first anniversary of
the massive earthquake.
Song's elder son, Song Lei, died in the earthquake,
as the 10th-grader was in class at the Beichuan middle school.
According to Wei Qiang, an engineer from the eastern
Shandong Province who helped designed the new building, it can resist
earthquakes of up to 9.0 on the Richter scale.
"More steel and concrete was used in this building"
than in the older ones, he said.
Li Qiang, vice headmaster of the primary school,
estimated that the cost of the new building was 2,000 yuan (294 U.S. dollars) to
3,000 yuan per square meter, four or five times of the cost of the old building.
Criticism arose after the quake, which left more than
80,000 people dead or missing. The poor quality of school construction was
blamed for the death of many students. It is unknown how many children died in
the disaster, but more than 7,000 schools collapsed in southwest China.
Li recalled that the old three-story school was built
in the 1980s, using just concrete blocks without a steel framework.
In the Beichuan middle school, where old Song's son
died, just four thin steel bars were used in each section of the wall, instead
of eight thick ones as shown on the blueprint.
Many bereaved parents took to the streets,
questioning construction quality and demanding a reply from local governments.
Officials apologized and the Communist Party chief of one county even knelt
The quality of schools in Sichuan became a national
President Hu Jintao vowed during his visit to Sichuan
at the end of last year that schools would be built as safe places that could
stand the test of time.
Statistics from the Sichuan provincial education
department showed that 3,340 schools needed to be rebuilt after the earthquake.
As of last Friday, 1,937 schools were under construction, about 58 percent of
the total. Construction of another 278 schools has been completed, 8.3 percent
of the total.
Under national regulations, new schools should be
able to resist quakes of up to 8.0 on the Richter scale. Some schools chose to
make the buildings even stronger, like the Zundao middle school in Mianzhu. That
three-story school building, sponsored by real estate developer Vanke group,
cost more than 10 million yuan.
"In normal school buildings, about 50 to 60 kilograms
of steel were used in each square meter," said Peng Xingkui, general manager of
the Xindi Construction Company.
But in Zundao, they used more than 100 kg of
reinforcing steel bars, each as thick as 25 millimeters in diameter, he said.
Steel plates and rubber were interlaced in the walls,
where they will function like springs. These structures "serve as a cushion when
a quake hits," said Peng. He added that the "cushion" could last for 70 years
and was replaceable.
After the 1,271 students moved into the new building,
they experienced several aftershocks. "Gradually, fewer students panicked," said
Yang Xingquan, headmaster of the Zundao Middle School. "To them, the school has
become a safe place," he said.
Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan City was one of
the worst-hit schools in the quake, where nearly 300 students were killed.
Parents of the dead students have staged several protests over building quality.
Xu Maohui, whose 15-year-old daughter was killed,
found wooden sticks in the pillars of the toppled old building.
But this time, said an unidentified official at the
construction site, "We have 38 steel bars in each pillar in the new building,
almost twice as many steel bars as used in ordinary buildings."
In addition, L-shaped buttress walls about 2m wide
were built at each turn of the stairs.
At a meeting last year presided over by Premier Wen
Jiabao, the amended the Law on Precautions against Earthquake and Relief of
Disaster was passed. It takes effect on May 1 this year.
According to the law, schools and hospitals must be
designed to stand strong earthquakes. School buildings should stand quakes of at
The Red Cross Society of China has published
guidebooks for students, telling them how to survive disasters. These books were
first used in Sichuan on April 2.
"These children will tell their parents what they
learn," said Liu Ping, assistant to the director of the society's training
center. "In this way, more people would come to realize the importance of
emergency escape and the skills to help each other," she said.
However, having schools in Sichuan reopen might be
the paramount goal.
Sichuan Province has pledged to have 95 percent of
the students back in school buildings, rather than tents or prefabricated
structures, before the end of this year. All students should be in regular
school buildings by next spring.
Construction of the Beichuan Middle School is to
start on May 12, the first anniversary of the quake, and the school is scheduled
to be in use next September.
The new, 200-million-yuan building, which can hold
5,000 students, was sponsored by overseas Chinese from around the globe. It was
designed by staff at renowned universities like Tsinghua University, the
University of Hong Kong, Tongji University and the Massachusetts Institute of
Construction worker Song Guobin hopes his younger
son, 3-year-old Wang Haoyu, can study in a safe building. "Now that his brother
is dead, he carries all my hopes," Song said.