• Kyodo

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Construction began Monday on a school building to replace a historic structure designed by a U.S. architect in Toyosato, Shiga Prefecture, that was the center of a preservation row that led to the town mayor’s temporary ouster.

In the town hall, residents handed Mayor Wasaburo Ono a written request urging a halt to construction and demanding that classes continue in the old Toyosato Elementary School building.

The new structure is to be a three-story reinforced building to be completed by next March. Students are currently attending classes in makeshift classrooms on the school grounds.

The row stems from a town plan to demolish the old school building. Locals have been calling for the preservation of the 66-year-old art deco building — designed by U.S. architect William Merrell Vories — that houses the elementary school.

The row began after town authorities went ahead and attempted to demolish the old school. They said they were concerned the old structure might be unable to withstand a major earthquake.

But residents fiercely opposed tearing down the building and won a court order to block the demolition, citing the school’s historical significance.

Ono, ousted in a referendum in March and re-elected the following month, said he has sought public support for the new building project.

He had reversed the initial demolition plan and declared he would preserve the old building but would go ahead with constructing a new structure anyway. It is still undecided how the old building will be used.

A residents’ group opposed to the new structure said Ono has filed a temporary injunction with the Otsu District Court urging the group’s representative, Kiyoharu Honda, and two other members to refrain from obstructing the construction.

According to the injunction, the three will be ordered to pay some 1.9 million yen for every day they block work.

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