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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

School Construction in China

I have a friend in China rebuilding a school destroyed in the earthquake. He is an expert in wood construction sent by the Canadian government to use their donated lumber to rebuild the school to be resistant to earthquakes.

He writes a newsletter when he has time that I find very interesting because he is answering some of my cultural questions even though he doesn't know it. For example, why are Chinese schools just bare concrete and poorly maintained compared to what I am used to as a school in America?

I am pasting his last newsletter here for your information:

I thought it might be interesting for you to hear about the difference in construction thinking here in China from the US. Just a few examples; The Armstrong Flooring Company donated enough tiles to do the 50,000 sf of floors here in this school with the hard vinyl tile used in schools throughout all of North America.

It is called VCT and is a tough resilient material that when damaged can be lifted out one at a time and another one inserted in its place. It does not shrink like the cheep tile squares you used in your rental house that after time shrink and leave dirt filled lines between the tiles. Its only draw back is it requires regular waxing and polishing.

The Chinese however do not have a budget for such extravagant maintenances schemes. So they are rejecting the donated tile and painting the floors instead. This will then make this school like all the rest of the schools throughout China. Only schools with big budgets in the construction phase have ceramic tile floors that only require sweeping. VCT or sheet goods are never used.
A German company wished to provide all the windows and doors for the buildings. That was rejected when the management company here found out the window sash was not designed to replace broken glass in. If glass is broken the whole sash and glass need to be removed from the building, taken apart and then reassembled with the new glass in it and reinstalled back into the building.

The doors came with a special hinge system and latch system that are not available here in China and very expensive to acquire if broken here in China. Thus another high maintenance item rejected.

The local school board has rejected and asked that the clock system designed for the school and its classrooms not be installed. It is an item not needed in a country school. They are used in city schools but this a country school, and it is thought to be a sign of extravagance. So no clocks will be installed. The wiring system and the controller is to be installed anyway. That will allow the clocks to be installed later if they should change their minds.

Sit-down toilets were also offered but rejected as unsanitary and high maintenance. The squatters are being used instead. (Chinese plumbing is usually of the Asian variety. You squat over a hole in the ground that also fushes just like a Western toliet.)

When I had a chance to chat with the former mayor of Shanghai he voiced his concern that the cost of keeping a wooden school up will be a significant burden to this small village. As I look at it, the school I have built here will need a new roof in 15 years, re-staining of the siding every 3-4 years, Termite spraying every spring outside and every summer inside the buildings. These are all costs not burdening Chinese school systems. All three of these items are never done in a typical rural Chinese concrete school.

Their concrete tile roofs last 40 years. The outsides are concrete or tile and never need paint, however, they look bad after just a few years, but there is no bug-food in a concrete structure. Floors are painted every other year. Sweeping is the biggest chore, and each teacher does their own room into the hall,l which is then swept by a student that is on detention. It is a simple system that has been used for 60 years. The procedures before then were even simpler.
So I can see the problems our Western school designs produce to the rural school district. And now you can see some of what I have to deal with here. It seems so generous of the different corporations and countries to donate items for schools here that just do not fit in this system of construction and maintenance cycles. Canada was lucky to get our wood structure accepted as an experiment in alternative and sustainable structural materials for public structures.