Options explored to restart classes

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Torres administration are working with the CNMI Public School System on how to restore classes in all public elementary, middle, and high schools on Saipan.

Almost all public school classrooms on Saipan sustained major damage from Super Typhoon Yutu, with Hopwood Middle School and William S. Reyes Elementary School incurring total devastation. Some buildings at the Northern Marianas College were also ravaged by Yutu’s destructive winds.

FEMA Region IX Deputy Regional Administrator Bill Roche said they are already assessing the damage and are looking at how to address the situation.

“That would require us to provide temporary classrooms, at which point we’re going to work with contractors in the CNMI, PSS, and NMC to determine what type of units we should get,” said Roche in a press briefing yesterday.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Joint Region Marianas commander Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, and U.S. military personnel from the Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Army were also present in the press briefing held at the NMI Retirement Fund building.

Roche said they are looking at bringing equipment called “sprung structures” that could be used as temporary classrooms and offices. “You need to put them down on concrete pads. These are aluminum frame structures that open up. They are made from all-weather materials.”

“You can then bring in air-conditioning units, wastewater, and partitioning for classrooms and offices. That’s the target, based on the governor’s priorities. We’re working through PSS with the assessment process right now. We’re looking at ordering some stuff right now, get it here, and deploy it.”

He added that they would use all available resources in helping resume classes “once we secure a safe environment.”

Roche said that they are looking to do rapid repairs on some structures that were not severely damaged. “We’re probably looking at anywhere from six to eight weeks. A lot of schools are damaged and also at NMC.”

He added that they would look into repairing some of the facilities before looking for temporary locations where classes could be held for students. “We’re looking at schools up north that have not been heavily damaged to determine a plan and maybe consolidate schedules or do shifts. It’s too early to tell.”

“What we want to do first is to clear some sites and work toward getting some temporary facilities up. In the previous typhoon [on] Rota, we had an emergency roof repair program, where teams would come in and put up really solid temporary roofing to get structures safe.”

Backup plans

Besides assessing the school facilities, Torres said they are also looking at other backup plans like setting up temporary classrooms or moving classes to another facility “if it’s clear enough for us to build the temporary classrooms or look for another facility or location that was not heavily damage and repair it.”

“We have identified some facilities for Hopwood, which we all know was totally damaged. So, we’re also looking at consolidating Hopwood and San Antonio [Middle School] together. Or looking for another property for NMC while their current facilities are being repaired.

For now, it is impossible to give a date as to when the classes would resume. “I’m sure that we’re going to encounter other issues along the way. At least, you know that we looked at the schools. There’s also a plan to shorten the school year, whether from six months to eight months.”

Chatfield said military troops have been helping clear the island of typhoon debris. “The Marines have already done debris removal at some schools. We could see the possibility of school opening up sooner on Tinian than in Saipan.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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