• Kyodo

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The town of Toyosato, Shiga Prefecture, will hold a referendum by March 11 on whether to remove the mayor over his aborted effort to demolish a historic school building designed by an American architect, despite a court injunction to not raze the structure, town officials said Friday.

The referendum must be held within 60 days of the official notice of the vote, which was made Friday by the municipal election board.

The board will decide on the precise date of the referendum after receiving an explanation from Mayor Wasaburo Ono, who was pushing the demolition plan.

The art deco school building, built in 1937, was designed by William Merrell Vories, who was also a prominent missionary and entrepreneur.

The election board has received 1,892 signatures from town residents, more than the one-third of voters needed to begin the process to oust the mayor.

The signatures were submitted in December by the citizens’ group Toyosato Isshin-no Kai, led by Hiroshi Ito. The group filed a formal request Thursday to force the mayor out.

A majority vote is required to oust the mayor. There were 5,657 eligible voters in the town as of Dec. 2.

Ito has said he is confident a majority of residents will vote to remove the mayor, but Ono has responded that he does not believe he will lose the referendum.

Ono attempted to demolish the 3,500-sq.-meter building housing the elementary school and to build a new one.

The move was in line with a decision in August 2001 by a town panel that raised concerns about the school, including that the old structure may no longer withstand a major earthquake.

On Dec. 19, a district court issued an injunction against the demolition work following a request by some residents, but Ono went ahead and began work to tear down the building the next day, resulting in scuffles between demolition workers and residents.

A number of residents filed a criminal complaint Dec. 24 against Ono for damaging the building. Ono said the same day he had decided to preserve the building but said that it will not be used.

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