The July 16 earthquake off Niigata Prefecture pointed to the need to make homes quake-resistant. The quake flattened more than 300 houses, and most of the deaths occurred when people were pinned down by structures. School buildings, including gyms, also must be made quake-resistant, especially because they serve as public evacuation facilities after a major earthquake.

In Niigata and Nagano prefectures, buildings at 272 publicly run elementary and middle schools were damaged. At an elementary school in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, the gym ceiling came down and electricity and city water were cut off. Arriving evacuees had to be led to another facility, a middle school.

According to an April 1, 2007, survey by the education ministry, of the 3,247 publicly run elementary and middle school buildings in Niigata and Nagano prefectures, 1,630 (50.2 percent) in Niigata and 2,761 (66.9 percent) in Nagano were rated quake-resistant.

The same survey shows that of 129,559 publicly run elementary and middle school buildings throughout the nation, 34.8 percent did not meet government quake-resistant standards. The standards, which were revised in 1981, say that buildings must withstand tremors of upper-6 intensity on the Japanese scale of 7.

Many school buildings were built in the 1960s and ’70s. On the basis of the survey findings, the education ministry instructed prefectural boards of education to conduct quake-resistance tests on school buildings that were not subjected to such tests previously and to push projects to strengthen school buildings.

Under a 1995 special law applicable to all schools throughout the nation, the government may extend subsidies covering one-third to one-half of the cost of making school buildings quake-resistant. Such work usually costs at least 100 million yen. The problem is that 46 municipalities have never carried out quake-resistance tests on school buildings and have no plans to do so before the end of fiscal 2007. They should carry them out as soon as possible and make the results known to the public.

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