Japan offers to fund ECC renovation, but RMI must prioritize project

After extensive review of the ECC gym in Majuro, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has provided the RMI government with a road map for requesting assistance from the government of Japan for funding to fix the gym, which has now been closed for nearly 18 months. The JICA office said it is waiting for the RMI's application so that the ECC can be processed for the coming fiscal year. Nearly four months have passed since JICA submitted its report and recommendations on the ECC gym to the RMI government, with the explanation of how the RMI government can request assistance from Japan to fix the damaged facility.

The assessment of the extent of damage at the ECC gym was requested by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In the report on the assessment issued to the RMI government on August 10, 2012, JICA Resident Representative Junji Ishizuka provided both the engineering assessment of the ECC gym roof, as well as a clear explanation of how the RMI can put the project on Japan's priority funding list for the Marshall Islands. "If you request for a new ECC construction project to Japanese side (based) on the Needs Survey result, I want to make the following advice," Ishizuka told RMI Chief Secretary Casten Nemra in the August 10 letter. "ECC project is necessary to be put top priority among projects in RMI for the next fiscal year." He provided details about how to make a compelling justification for the project so that it would gain approval of the Japan government and concluded by saying, "we are waiting for your thorough application."

Minister of Internal Affairs Wilbur Heine said his Ministry is asking Cabinet to prioritize renovations of the ECC gym over other JICA-funded projects.

The ECC gym was built with Japanese infrastructure aid funding in the mid-1990s as part of a Project for Improvement of Marshall Islands High School. Part of the roof collapsed in June 2011 as a result of severe termite damage, forcing closure of the facility that has been used by thousands of students and community people every year since it opened in 1997.

A JICA-funded study of the ECC in June and July confirmed that termite damage is extensive in eight of the remaining 14 timber arches, said a JICA assessment report. “It poses a dangerous situation for housing and people around ECC, as the possibility of the collapse of the roof structure would be high, according to the termite specialists.” The ECC roof is in danger of collapse and needs to be demolished within the next few months, said the Japan government report provided to the RMI government in August. 

JICA recommended demolition of existing wooden arches as early as possible, since the termite specialist and the structural engineer said there is a “high possibility of collapse of the roof of ECC within three to six months.” No action has yet been taken by the RMI government to remove the roof.

If the termite infested roof collapses, “It might seriously affect the lives of people around the ECC in case the roof collapses again…Chief Secretary (Casten Nemra) informed us that the existing wooden arches will be demolished by the government of RMI,” the report said.

Three arches on the ocean side and two on lagoon side of the ECC are at greatest risk of collapse, said the JICA report.

In order for Japan to consider funding for the ECC, a request from the RMI government must be put forward naming the ECC as a priority infrastructure project for consideration by the Japan government. JICA Resident Representative Ishizuka, who is based in Majuro, offered Nemra a proposed schedule and plan for submitting a request to the Japan government.

Of four possible options, the JICA and Ministry of Public Works-recommended proposal to replace the existing wood support beams with steel beams is estimated to cost $5.1 million.

In a news article published in the Marshall Islands Journal on September 7 this year, Chief Secretary Nemra said that “the RMI government is looking at it, while at the same time it is committed to the USP campus project (which is currently the RMI’s top priority project for Japan aid).”

As the November 30, 2012 rainout of the first games of the BOMI Ralik Ratak Shootout Basketball Tournament indicate, holding sports events without benefit of an enclosed gym is a problem. Most of the speakers at the opening ceremony for the national basketball tournament talked about the urgency of getting the ECC fixed

Photo: The collapsed roof on the lagoon side of the ECC gym in Majuro, June 24, 2011. This section of roof was removed a short time after it collapsed, but numerous other beams in the ECC are severely termite damaged and a Japan engineering team says the roof is in danger of collapsing because of termite infestation in the celing support beams.




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