Saving a school from collapsing

Disaster: It is hot and humid in Harachu. But that is not bothering the teachers of Singye Namgyal Primary School. Teaching has ceased for the last few days. Teachers are busy ensuring that classrooms and hostel of the school in Athang gewog is safe.

They are worried that the school building’s wall could collapse even with a minor earthquake. The wall of the boy’s hostel collapsed on June 18. Two classrooms were converted to hostel. Yesterday the teachers were erecting support poles to hold the wall of the classrooms. “The hostel’s walls collapsed few days after a minor earthquake in June,” principal Khandu said.

The most remote school in Wangduphodrang, about five hours walk from the nearest road, suffered damages  from the 2011 earthquake. Although the school was established only in 2008, the principal said almost all the structures are on the verge of collapsing as they were made of rammed earth.

The school has 129 students and six teachers and caters to six villages.

Some students still study in tents as their classrooms were damaged. “Since the place is humid, students and teachers are having difficult time studying in tents,” principal Khandu said.

Following the damage report, Wangdue dzongkhag administration, on June 24, sent a disaster committee comprising of civil engineer, electrical engineer and education official to the school to assess the damage.

The team found big holes between walls and broken or unstable base. The remaining portion of the broken wall has tilted inside making the structure unstable. Several other parts of the building have also developed open cracks making the whole building vulnerable to even small tremors.

They also found that the girl’s hostel was not safe. Compaction of mud was poor in the mud rammed walls. Broken areas of the hostel were repaired with stone filling, which the committee found unsafe.

The team also warned of hygienic issues as the boys were staying in the cramped classrooms. The committee suggested the school to use the dining hall, which is nearing completion, as the boys’ hostel until a new one was built.

The disaster committee also found that the boys’ hostel was built by the community is 2009-2010 with funding from Tarayana Foundations. A portion of the same building collapsed in 2012.

“As per our observation the construction was of poor quality, works could have been carried out by semi or unskilled people from the community. There is evidence of poor workmanship, use of inferior quality materials,” the committee’s report stated.

The report also stated that from the broken walls, soil contains more sand and fewer clay particles resulting into weak bonding. “We found the presence of more organic matter like leaves, twigs and compost in the soil used for building the walls,” stated the report.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

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