OTSUCHI, Iwate — Construction of a prefabricated school has begun here to accommodate pupils and students of five elementary and junior high schools that were destroyed by tsunami and fires caused by the March 11 earthquake.
The temporary school is being built on the schoolyard of Otsuchi-kita Elementary School, whose first-floor ceilings were submerged by the tsunami.
Otsuchi-kita is one of the five devastated schools out of seven elementary and junior high schools in the Iwate town. The four others were Otsuchi, Ando and Akahama elementary schools and Otsuchi Junior High School.
Some parents expressed concerns about the new school under construction because of its proximity to the ocean but others welcomed it, saying they want their children to be close to home rather than studying at distant schools.
The March disaster destroyed or damaged 133 elementary and junior high schools in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, and many of the schools are now forced to hold classes at non-school facilities.
Construction of the prefabricated school at the Otsuchi-kita schoolyard began on May 16 in front of the two-story school building.
The town scrambled to secure classrooms for about 740 pupils and students after the natural disaster. Town school officials assigned pupils from Otsuchi-kita and two other elementary schools to Kirikiri Elementary School in eastern Otsuchi; first-year and second-year students of Otsuchi Junior High School were sent to Kirikiri Junior High; third-year students of Otsuchi Junior High went to Otsuchi Senior High School; and Otsuchi Elementary School pupils were dispatched to the Rikuchukaigan youth house in the neighboring town of Yamada.
Opening ceremonies were held on April 20. The town operates 21 school bus services because of the spread-out set up, and it takes some children up to an hour to get to school.
Furthermore, hastily-arranged classrooms are inconvenient. Some classrooms are loosely partitioned and noise from nearby rooms bothers teachers and students. Some students cannot attend physical education and music classes due to a lack of classrooms for those subjects.
The city searched for an ideal place to build the temporary school but flat land is in short supply as the town is situated by the coast and mountains.
City officials chose the Otsuchi-kita Elementary School as the construction site because it has enough space and is situated farthest from the ocean among the five destroyed schools. Just behind the school are mountains, which will make it easy for children to evacuate should another big tsunami strike.
But the elementary school is located in a submerged zone. A town education board official said, “It may not be the best place but we have to quickly prepare an educational environment for our children.”
The town will build a temporary elementary school (18 classrooms) and a junior high school (12 classrooms), each two stories high, and a gymnasium by July to accommodate the pupils and students from the five schools.
Reactions from parents and guardians are mixed.
A 66-year-old woman whose granddaughter is a sixth-grader said, “If possible, I want the town to build the school on an elevated spot. But I understand there is no suitable land.”
A 34-year-old local woman who has sixth-grade and first-grade daughters said she welcomes the new school. “My daughters sometimes got sick because of long bus rides, and I was worried about sending them to a distant school,” she said.