Yaan earthquake

Foam, hollowed bricks used in Lushan school construction, reports say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 April, 2013, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 April, 2013, 4:56am

Widespread speculation on the internet has begun as to whether a secondary school in earthquake-ravaged Lushan county, funded by the Hong Kong government, had been constructed using substandard materials.

Cracked and peeling walls at Lushan County Junior Secondary School exposed bricks that were either hollow or filled with “polystyrene foam”, party mouthpiece People’s Daily reported on Thursday.

Netizens on the Chinese blogosphere began spreading the news after the revelations arose earlier this week. Many placed the blame on corrupt officials and billed the findings as another "tofu schools" episode - refering to the shoddily constructed school buildings that crumbled easily to the ground during the Sichuan quake of 2008.

The Hong Kong government played down the concerns, saying shale-perforated bricks were commonly used in construction on the mainland and most of the damaged walls were non-load bearing. It said the school designs complied with the mainland's Code for Seismic Design of Buildings.

Shale-perforated bricks, which have hollow cavities, help reduce the weight of the concrete. They can be filled with “compound silicate” for insulation and energy conservation purposes.

“[The building] was designed and constructed in accordance with relevant mainland laws and regulations and meets construction codes and standards,” a government spokesman said on Wednesday. “This type of design is commonly adopted on the mainland”.

The current building code aims to ensure buildings sustain “no damage in minor earthquakes, repairable damage during medium earthquakes and no collapses during big earthquakes”.

Wong Chak-yan, an engineer from Hong Kong, told the People’s Daily however, that just because perforated bricks were commonly used in construction, it did not mean they were always used correctly under the right safety standards.

“It also depends on how well you insert the foam into the bricks, it has to be evenly spaced and distributed,” he said. Looking at photos of the bricks in the Lushan county school he said it was possible the concrete bricks could have been "full of holes" and polystyrene was just "stuffed" into them.

A government spokesman from Hong Kong confirmed on Wednesday that the school was funded with by the Hong Kong government and completed in December 2011. Included in the 31 million yuan (HK$39 million) project was a teaching block, student dormitory blocks, a canteen and sports ground.