Monday, 18 June

Students at Risk: 30% of Armenia’s Schools Seismically Unsafe

If there’s ever a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in Armenia, numerous school buildings will partly or fully collapse, resulting in large numbers of casualties and material losses.

Taking this into account, Armenia’s government approved the Seismic Safety Improvement of the RA Public Schools Program for 2015-2030 in 2015. Since then, several changes have been made to the program and its action plan, the last one being in July of this year. This is when the list of Armenia's earthquake-prone schools was also approved.

According to the list, 425 schools are at risk in terms of seismic resistance. This is 30% of the country's schools.

Some of the schools in the list, however, have already been allocated millions of drams and dollars from the state budget, social projects and loans.

The list includes formerly renovated schools

Some of the directors of 425 schools told us that their schools were seismically stable, and millions of drams had been spent from the budget for their rehabilitation.

#4 high school in Goris, for example, was rehabilitated and reinforced in 2007-2008. Director Armineh Shegounts said that the school had been renovated by the Social Investment Fund for 110 million drams.

Another school from the list, in the Shatin village of Vayots Dzor province, was rehabilitated and renovated in three stages in 2007-2008.

In 2010, Aygevit village school of Tavush province was rehabilitated.

Another listed school, the Vanadzor branch of the Polytechnic University, was rehabilitated in 2007-2009. University head Armen Kharatyan says that after the completion of the rehab, the high school moved from domiks (containers) to the university. He says the total rehab of several buildings, including that one, was done for around 300 million AMD.

In January 2017, the State Committee for Urban Development proposed to the project presenter to replace those schools in the list that had been recently rehabilitated.

Minister of Territorial Administration and Development Davit Lokyan didn’t accept this proposal, reasoning that "no alternatives were submitted".

The Ararat Provincial Administration and the Yerevan Municipality also suggested that changes be made to the list. They offered to replace several schools with others. Both proposals have been rejected. The author of the project replied to the Ararat Provincial Administration that "the seismic vulnerability level of the schools included in the list is high, while it’s medium level in case of the proposed schools." Yerevan Municipality's proposal was rejected without comments.

Twenty "prioritized" schools

The government has outlined twenty out of 425 mentioned schools, which are "in urgent need of improvement". The program doesn’t specify why these twenty schools have been selected. It's also unclear what is meant by “improvement”.

According to one of the selection principles, Yerevan should "have a differentiated approach" and around 30% of the programs should be implemented in Yerevan, as around 30% of the country's schoolchildren study there. Despite this, 12 of 20 schools (60%) to be built or reinforced are in Yerevan.

According to another principle, when selecting the schools, schools with good technical conditions should have been omitted.

The State Committee for Urban Development noted that Yerevan #51 and Sevan #1 schools had been renovated in recent years with state budgets, but they were still in the list.

The Committee suggested to remove these schools from the list, but the proposal wasn’t accepted, with the reasoning that a new building was built with the state budget in case of the Yerevan #51 school in and it was the old building to be reinforced. As for Sevan primary school, the budget was provided for repair works, not reinforcement. After some back and forth with the Ministry of Finance, Sevan #1 school was removed from the list, while Yerevan #51 school is still there, though more than 500 million drams have already been allocated for its reinforcement.

It should be noted that a Seismic Safety Improvement Loan Agreement was signed between the Government of Armenia and the Asian Development Bank, with a total budget of $107 million, $88.5 million of which is provided by the bank, and $ 18.5 million is the government’s contribution.

The government's decision and its action plan don’t mention that the above-mentioned twenty schools will be renovated or rehabilitated by this loan, but it says that as a result of the adoption of the project, the number of students in seismically safe schools will increase by 13037, which is the same as the expected outcome of the Asian Development Bank loan agreement.

Some schools in the list are being renovated by the World Bank loan program

Hetq earlier wrote about the World Bank's loan for renovating 17 high schools in Armenia, which may remain incomplete due to the insufficient funding.

Rehabilitation contracts have been signed for five of them - Noyemberyan high school in Tavoush Province, high school in Martouni, Gegharkounik Province, #1 high school in Hrazdan city, Kotayk Province, #2 high school in Metzamor, Armavir Province, and the one in Ararat town, Ararat Province.

Despite this, Hrazdan #1, Metzamor #2 and Ararat high schools, the total cost of rehabilitation of which by the WB loan program is more than $ 4 million, have also been included in the list of 425. Nine of twelve schools that were included in the list of the World Bank loan program, but are under the question, are also included in this government program. During July sessions, none of the authorities presenting objections and suggestions voiced this. The implementer of the WB's loan, the Ministry of Education and Science, was silent about this, too.

Some schools with low seismic safety are out

The draft decision, by which the list of 425 seismic hazards schools was approved in July 2017, was submitted to the government by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development, represented by Deputy Minister Vache Terteryan.

In 2015, a list of 377 earthquake-prone schools of Armenia was compiled. These schools had a low level of seismic safety, according to the standards set by the UNICEF Yerevan Office. The initial cost of reinforcing them or building new ones was estimated at $ 617 million, of which $ 107 million was for 2015-2020.

However, 150 of these 377 schools are not included in the list of 425.

Of these 150 schools, only secondary school # 6 in Artashat doesn’t operate, according to the recent data published by the Ministry of Education. Two other institutions - Sisian's #1 and Goris #1 Special Secondary Schools - were reorganized as SNCOs by two different decisions. They are not schools any more, but they carry out educational activities for children in need of special education.

The rest of the educational institutions are included in the MOE's list of operating schools.

Among the above-mentioned 150 schools, there are schools that are considered unsafe.

Shirakavan school, built in 1896, was included in the 2015 list and removed two years later. Principal Juliette Mkrtchyan says the school has never been rehabilitated. In 2008, it underwent some cosmetic renovation financed by Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. Some windows have been replaced by the funds provided by the provincial administration.

The principal says that the school's seismic stability was checked in 2014 and it was said to be earthquake-prone. The director wasn’t aware that the school was left out of the list in 2017.

112 students attend the school and the pre-school. Its rehabilitation was estimated at $327,000 in 2015.

The Sarnaghbyour secondary school building, another one that was left out in 2017, was partially renovated in 2000-2001, by the Social Investment Fund project. The roof, doors and windows were replaced, but no attention was paid to the foundation.

Principal Hmayak Hakobyan says that when government experts visited the school in 2015, they said that although one of three buildings had been renovated, its foundation was too weak to keep the building open.

The school’s other two buildings have never been renovated and must be replaced with new construction.

Hakobyan says no one from the government has gotten back to him since.

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