JEDDAH — With the new academic year beginning Saturday, education authorities are concerned about the refusal of the Civil Defense Directorate to certify the safety of hundreds of rented school buildings in various parts of the country.
The Civil Defense says many of these rented buildings do not meet safety requirements and are not suitable for running classes. In Jeddah alone, some 800 buildings have not been issued safety certificates.
The education administration in Jeddah, on its part, reiterated its commitment to complying with Civil Defense requirements. Officials cited the non-availability of sufficient government-owned land for the delay in constructing modern educational facilities in the region.
In an official letter, the administration called upon the Civil Defense to modify some of the safety requirements.
The letter said that it was difficult for the administration to find substitute buildings, especially inside the old neighborhoods and in the suburbs of the city.
It said no land could be found in some of the areas to build new schools.
The letter voiced concern that the persistent refusal of the Civil Defense to issue safety certificates for so many school buildings would create a major headache to the education authorities with the school year starting Saturday.
Officials from the administration, Civil Defense and other pertinent agencies met in Jeddah recently to find a solution to the problem.
During the meeting, the representatives of the Education Department reiterated their commitment to finding substitute buildings in a short time as the government does not own land in many of the neighborhoods to build new schools.
The Civil Defense, for its part, said its inspectors discovered grave violations of safety regulations such as electric overloads and obstruction of emergency exits in some schools. Furthermore, some of the buildings have water leaks or cracks in the wall that required immediate attention of the authorities.
Used furniture, goods and books are stored randomly. Some schools are located inside narrow alleys and cannot be reached by firefighters in case of emergencies, it said.
Brig. Abdullah Jadawi, director of Jeddah Civil Defense, reiterated that his directorate’s priority is the safety of students. Some schools are in dire need of repair and will be shut down if they don’t fix the safety issues, he said.
“Our inspectors want to ensure that all students and teachers are safe and are not facing potential risks. That’s why we carried out a comprehensive inspection campaign at all public and private schools in Jeddah. We found that some schools are really dangerous,” said Jadawi.
However, education officials refuted the claims. They say many of the schools deemed to be potentially dangerous in fact have not committed any grave violations with regard to safety requirements.
The Jeddah education administration requested officials in charge of the schools to sign undertakings that they would fix all problems within a specified period and that the Civil Defense could suspend their licenses if they fail to fulfill that commitment.
In that event the schools will be evacuated and students will be transferred to suitable substitute buildings, they said.