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June 20, 2011

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Schools in old buildings at risk from fire

SCHOOLS and kindergartens are creating firetraps by cramming hundreds of children into old residential buildings intended for just six people, a senior advisor warned yesterday.

Some have expanded historic buildings to accommodate more students and built canteens that block fire passages, said Hu Wei, a senior official of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee - the political advisory body.

Stairways are so narrow and steep that students would have difficulty escaping in an emergency, warned Hu, vice director of the educational department of the committee.

Moreover, fire trucks would have trouble reaching the old houses in the city's narrow alleys, he said.

And electricity wires were often hung within reach of children, added Hu.

In Xuhui District, six such schools and kindergartens were discovered, and a similar situation exists in Changning and Jing'an districts.

However, many parents seem unaware of possible dangers, a Shanghai Daily investigation found.

More than 180 children, most children of migrant workers, attend Huangpu Weihai Road Kindergarten in a two-story residential building near Huangpi Road S. The building is shared with a nameplate company and a restaurant.

One father, surnamed Wu, from east China's Jiangsu Province, said he was satisfied with the kindergarten and that the 300 yuan (US$46) monthly fee is cheaper than other local facilities.

Hubin, a father from Thailand who is married to a Chinese woman, said he felt the kindergarten was a bit small but didn't believe there were safety problems.

Qu Jun, deputy director of the Shanghai municipal educational department, said the problem was not widespread. "Few public schools and kindergarten are in old buildings now," Qu said.

Hu said the problem was hard to solve as it was unclear whether education or the real estate authorities were responsible. City government should relocate students, urged Hu.

Old houses were turned into schools around the 1950s The most famous example is a building of the high school affiliated to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in Xuhui District, which is the former residence of late Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek.


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