School built by US for Afghan students in danger of collapsing, watchdog warns

A school and education training facility built by U.S.-led forces pose a danger to Afghan students and teachers, including one building that could collapse without warning, the chief American watchdog inside the country warns.

“We have serious concerns for the safety of the hundreds of faculty and children that will be using the classrooms at any given time,” said a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

The two buildings are the Bathkhak School in Kabul province and the Sheberghan teacher training facility in Jawzjan province. Inspector General John Sopko is so concerned about the buildings’ safety that he took the unusual step of sending letters to government officials before his office’s report is finished.

The contractor building the Bathkhak School substituted building materials without U.S. approval, the IG said.  The plan for a wood-truss ceiling and sheet-metal roof was replaced with a concrete roof, and Sopko said he was concerned the building was in danger of imminent collapse.

“The school’s interior and exterior walls appear to be insufficiently constructed to hold the weight of the concrete ceiling,” he said.

Making matters worse, the IG said that the Bathkhak school is in an area of “high seismic activity,” raising the possibility of a structural collapse.

The IG said exact recommendations would be provided in their final report, but he urged U.S. officials to immediately take action to make the school safer, and avoid turning over control of the building to the Afghan government until the safety concerns were fixed.

Sopko wrote letters to the commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan, the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development with concerns about the two schools.

Due to a serious risk that the building could collapse, we also will be requesting the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to notify the Afghan Ministry of Education of these safety concerns,” the IG said.

The second building was a teacher training facility in Jawzjan province.  Investigators found problems with the electrical wiring that could cause fires or electrocution.  Plus, the building doesn’t yet have working water and sewage systems.

“Despite the fact that the building is still under construction, our inspectors found that the Afghans have already begun using the building,” Sopko said.

The U.S. paid $262,899 to build the Bathkhak School and $2.9 million to construct several teacher training facilities around Afghanistan.  The IG’s report did not list problems with any of the company’s structures other than the Sheberghan facility.

Neither company could be reached for comment.

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