Last Friday, our city was stunned by the collapse of the entire concrete roof of an amenities building at City University.
Luckily, only three people were slightly injured.
Even though the collapse didn’t cause many casualties this time, the fact that many buildings across Hong Kong, including many schools, have green roofs like the one at City University on them has sparked grave public concern about the safety of green roofs on other buildings.
Over the past 10 years, as a result of government promotion and subsidization, a soaring number of new buildings have been fitted with green roofs.
As far as existing buildings are concerned, the administration has been providing subsidies for property owners to build retrofitted green roofs on them, so as to improve the urban landscape and to reduce temperatures inside the buildings to save electricity.
Since 2008, the Education Bureau has embarked on a project to promote green roofs on existing and newly completed school buildings.
It is estimated that, so far, more than a hundred school buildings across the city have been fitted with green roofs covered in vegetation on water-proof membranes, and many more are coming on stream.
However, even though the government has put a lot of effort into promoting green roofs on school buildings, it hasn’t issued comprehensive guidelines or provided technical support to schools regarding the structural safety of their green roofs.
Even after the roof collapse at City University, all the Education Bureau did was send written notices to all schools to tell them to conduct safety checks on their green roofs and “act accordingly” if any potential structural failure is identified.
Since thorough building safety inspections require a lot of expertise from certified structural engineers and often cost a lot of money, I believe the administration could have done substantially more to help schools find out whether their green roofs are safe.
It is a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of students, and therefore by no means should the government leave the daunting task of ensuring the structural safety of the green roofs to schools themselves and provide no extra support and funding.
At the Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said there are only 66 schools in Hong Kong that have built green roofs.
The figure is obviously inaccurate, suggesting that the administration has failed to keep abreast of the latest progress of green roof construction in schools across the city.
In order to prevent another roof collapse in schools, I believe it is a matter of absolute urgency for the Education Bureau to provide immediate financial and technical support for schools in our city to hire certified building engineers to conduct thorough structural inspections as soon as possible.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 26.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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