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China's schools to be disaster-proof

CHINA yesterday kicked off a three-year program to ensure school buildings are strong enough against earthquakes and other natural disasters and said it would set apart 8 billion yuan (US$1.17 billion) to support the program.

The program will focus on schools in China's central and western areas where earthquakes, mudslides and floods are frequent, according to a Cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.

The local authorities will demolish and renovate school buildings and relocate others at risk from earthquakes, mudslides and floods, the meeting was told.

New school buildings must follow strict safety criteria set by the government, the meeting said.

During the May 12 earthquake last year, about 7,000 classrooms collapsed in Sichuan Province.

Also yesterday, officials said the reconstruction of Beichuan Middle School, one of the schools that sustained the most damage in last year's earthquake, will start on May 12, the first anniversary of the earthquake.

The new school, mostly funded by donations from Chinese all over the world, will be built in Beichuan's new county seat, said Liu Qi, an official with the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, which was in charge of aiding the rebuilding.

Officials will choose a design from submissions by leading universities including Tsinghua University and Tongji University as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hong Kong University, he said.

More than 1,300 of the school's 2,900 students and teachers were killed when the earthquake struck.

Surviving students have attended classes in temporary structures since shortly after the disaster.

Overseas Chinese have donated nearly 200 million yuan, Liu said.

The new school will cover about 13 hectares and is expected to enroll more than 5,000 students.

An official of the federation arrived in Sichuan earlier this week and will work with the local government on construction, he said.

China's government also said it would be launching a transparent public tender system as part of the project to strengthen or replace unsafe school buildings.


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