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Quake-proofing efforts lag at Fukushima schools

Fukushima Minpo

Education ministry data released earlier this month showed that only 84.9 percent of public elementary and junior high school buildings in Fukushima Prefecture had been quake-proofed as of April 1, 10.7 points below the national average.

Of the 2,053 buildings, 310 still need renovation and 67 are likely to collapse if a quake measuring upper 6 or higher on the Japanese seismic intensity scale to 7 strikes the area.

Even though the figure was second-worst among the 47 prefectures, the municipalities in question lack the funds for the renovations because they are putting priority on decontamination and recovery from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns. The rise in prices of construction materials isn’t helping either, they say.

Even if they have the funds, they would have difficulty securing the workers and materials needed for the retrofitting process — which the ministry had intended to complete by end of fiscal 2015 — due to reconstruction from 3/11.

Among 52 municipalities in the prefecture, excluding seven radiation-contaminated towns and villages where schools remain closed, the city of Fukushima had the most school buildings not yet up to quake-resistance standards or pending quake-resistance checks.

“We want to provide students with safe places to study as soon as possible, but it will take time to get the retrofitting work done,” said Tsutomu Abe of Fukushima’s board of education, which is in charge of the retrofitting projects.

Since higher priority was given to reconstruction projects, retrofitting contracts at some schools even failed to draw bids, board officials said, predicting it will take several more years to finish the work.

At municipal Shinryo Junior High School, which has 670 students, a new building is under construction next to one built more than 50 years ago. The old building is said to be at high risk of collapsing if a an upper 6 quake hits the region.

“We place priority on the safety of students while the construction work is going on,” Principal Tomohiro Kameoka said.

The data also revealed that 85.4 percent of public schools for special needs students in Fukushima are quake-resistant, which was the lowest level nationwide.

At a municipal school for the handicapped, seven buildings more than 40 years old failed the quake-proofing criteria. Authorities have yet to come up with concrete renovation plans despite repeated calls from parents and local support groups.

“We will make efforts to secure children’s safety by taking advantage of the fact that we have more staff than regular schools,” said Principal Kaoru Tsukano.

This section, appearing on the third Tuesday this month due to Monday’s press holiday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published June 3.