CHIANG RAI – Two months after the trail of destruction left by one of the country’s worst earthquake disasters, their are still classrooms of remote schools in Chiang Rai where students are forced to have their lessons in tents.
Buildings in nine schools across three battered districts of Mae Lao, Mae Suai and Phan display jagged and dangerous cracks and are barely standing. Close by, students struggle to learn history and maths in tents donated by local authorities.
The students, many of them from poor families, have no idea how long they will have to sit outside in the makeshift classrooms. The delay in getting new classrooms is creating desperation.
Their plight has been witnessed by millions around the country, including a group of leading architects and engineers who have made it their mission to rebuild the schools and ensure the buildings are jolt-resistant.
The group has enthusiastically joined in the reconstruction project which is also tackling quake-ravaged homes and temples in Chiang Rai.
The aftermath of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks left behind caved-in roads and crumbling buildings and Buddhist temples. Villagers are also in urgent need of housing.
Students continue to be deprived of classrooms with the new school term already started.
“Soon after the earthquake, we came up with the idea to help out,” said Vipavee Kunavichayanont, a representative of Design for Disasters (D4D), a non-profit research and design organisation whose mission is to create liveable habitats in natural disaster prone areas. The organisation provides core assistance in the rebuilding work.
The work involves designing and constructing new buildings at nine affected schools using materials that are readily available in the communities, environmentally friendly and which, most of important of all, can tolerate tremors.
Ms Vipavee said the group plans to offer similar help to other affected schools in the province.
The project is named “Earthquake Recovery Project: Reconstruction of Houses, Temples and Schools Affected by the Earthquake in Chiang Rai”. It was launched in collaboration with the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA), the Engineering Institute of Thailand, the Consulting Engineers Association of Thailand and the Thai Contractors Association. The Lanna Architect Committee of local designers and architects is also taking part in the project although it is focusing more on the restoration of ruined temples.
As the earthquake struck with varying magnitudes in different parts of the upper North, one architect has been assigned per locality to come up with a blueprint to suit each of the nine schools, Ms Vipavee said.
The nine schools which come under the jurisdiction of the Chiang Rai education office are Baan Ta Hor, Than Thong Wittaya, Nong Bau, Baan Thung Fah Pha, Baan Pa Ko Dam Community, Pong Prae Wittaya, Baan Doi Chang, Baan Huai San Yao and Phan Tambon Administrative Organisation.
Two temples also require immediate restoration: Wat Donk Ma Feang and Wat Mai La Or Naram.
The nine architects got together through their own connections and not with the help of the authorities. They estimate the cost of rebuilding each school will be 1.5 to 2 million baht in materials and labour. The architects have received donations of construction materials from leading manufacturers around the country. D4D continues to raise funds for the rest of the project.
Guided by humanitarianism and the desire to help those in distress, the group designs and rebuilds the schools free of charge.
“It is our duty to use professional knowledge and potential to get experts and volunteers to join in and make this project successful,” Pichai Wongwaisayawan, president of the architects’ association, said.
“We are looking out for our country’s safety, not only for these people,” said Suttisak Soralump, vice-president and chairperson, foreign affairs committee, the Engineering Institute of Thailand.
The old school buildings will be demolished and new ones erected on the same ground. The design work was completed two weeks ago and construction started last week.
Pol Lt Col Bundit Pradabsook, vice-president of the ASA, said rebuilding of the schools was a priority with long-term safety in mind. The group aims to finish the work in two to three months.
Suriya Umpansiriratana, an architect from WallAsia, said the group wants to get the schools up and running again as quickly as possible with the design geared toward making the buildings quake proof while blending in with the environment.
They will also be expected to fulfil local needs. This includes having at least four classrooms, toilets, lockers, shelves and school grounds as a basic requirement. The building materials would mostly consist of wood and metals.
Their building ideas derived from similar structures seen in earthquake-prone countries such as Indonesia.
Natural resources are plentiful in Chiang Rai and will be used as building materials. Bamboo grown locally will form an integral part of the design and construction as it is sturdy and long-lasting.
The wood, flexible and well-suited to the environment, is processed to make it last up to 30 years.
The group has decided not to use a modernist look or concept for the buildings as out of place for the area.
Jun Sekino, of Junsekino Architect and Design Co Ltd, said the essential idea is to create an easily developed design around the children and teachers.
“In the future they will be able to modify the functions of the buildings as they want. For example, they can merge two classrooms into one by removing a partition or they can renovate the buildings’ walls themselves,” he said.
ML Varudh Varavarn, of Vin Varavarn Architects Ltd, stressed it was necessary to construct the buildings with minimal materials that will respect nature and avoid the cutting down of trees.
“We have designed these buildings to withstand a maximum 7.0-magnitude earthquake,” Mr Suttisak said.
The sponsors of the project include Siam Cement Group, Viva Board, Siam City Cement Public Co Ltd and Bangkok Airways.
As for the wrecked homes, Mr Pichai said the groups would develop prototype houses with the help of local residents who will be enlisted to participate in the construction so that they can gain knowledge about housing construction which might be useful to them in the future.
Pol Lt Col Bundit said there were about 100 temples and 1,000 houses destroyed or partially destroyed in the earthquake.