LCQ13: Substandard premises of public-sector schools 

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 7):
     At present, the facilities of quite a number of public-sector primary and secondary school premises built in different eras in accordance with the standards prevalent at their time of construction are inferior to those of the school premises built in accordance with the "Year 2000 design" promulgated by the authorities in 1998. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective latest standard facilities applicable to school premises of different numbers of classrooms at present and, under such standards, the numbers and areas of various facilities as well as whether air-conditioning installation is required (set out in a table);

(2) of the respective numbers of school premises which are now not provided with an assembly hall, a music room, a library, a computer room, a language room, a counselling room, a medical inspection room, a visual arts room, a basketball court, a student activity centre, an open space (two square metres per student), a staff common room and a conference room (with a tabulated breakdown by school district under the Education Bureau);

(3) of the existing number of school premises the fire safety installations in which have not yet met the requirements equivalent to those stipulated in the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) or the Fire Services Department's Code of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations and Equipment, with a breakdown by school district and year of age of the school premises; the relevant reasons and which party is to bear the liabilities involved;

(4) of the existing number of school premises which require the installation of additional barrier-free facilities (such as lifts) in order to provide a barrier-free physical environment for persons with disabilities;

(5) of the existing number of premises of whole-day schools not provided with a student canteen;

(6) given that the facilities of quite a number of school premises built in the early years have not yet met the standards of the "Year 2000 design", whether the EDB has plans to upgrade the facilities of such premises to the latest standards; if the EDB does, of the implementation timetable and the contents of the plans; if not, the reasons for that; and

(7) whether the EDB will, by drawing reference to the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme implemented by the Buildings Department and the Comprehensive Structural Investigation Programme implemented by the Housing Department, implement the School Improvement Programme afresh to renovate and repair substandard school premises in a comprehensive and orderly manner, so as to ensure that such school premises are structurally safe and can tie in with the needs of education development?

     My reply to the questions raised by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen regarding the provision of facilities at public-sector secondary and primary schools is as follows:
(1) At present, there are about 900 ordinary public-sector schools in Hong Kong. Their premises were built in different periods in accordance with the standards at the time of construction and covered various facilities. Over the years, standards of school premises have also been changing in response to, among others, developments in classroom learning, extra-curricular activities as well as guidance and counselling work. Take public-sector primary schools as an example, they have evolved from the standard 24-classroom premises (with three special rooms) in the 1980s to the current scales of 18, 24, 30 or 36-classroom premises, equipped correspondingly with 10 to 14 special rooms for teaching and learning purposes. The reference site area is around 4 000 square metres to 7 000 square metres. As for public-sector secondary schools, they have evolved from the standard 24-classroom premises (with 12 special rooms) in the 1980s to the current 30-classroom premises, with 21 special rooms for teaching and learning purposes, and a reference site area of around 7 000 square metres. As at November 2016, more than 200 public-sector schools were built according to the prevailing standards.
     On provision of air-conditioning at schools, as explained in our relevant reply to the question raised at Legislative Council sitting on November 16 this year, air-conditioning systems are not considered as standard teaching facilities under the prevailing policy. For ordinary public-sector schools, the Government will normally install insulated windows and air-conditioning systems for classrooms and special rooms exposed to traffic noise or fixed noise source as noise mitigation measures in accordance with the noise standards stipulated in the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines. In addition, some special rooms, such as computer-assisted learning rooms, language rooms and libraries, are fitted with air-conditioning systems because of the equipment or devices contained therein and the function of such rooms require so.

(2), (3) and (5) School premises built in different periods follow the standards and requirements at the time of construction. Take fire service installations and equipment (FSI) as an example, when approving school building plans, the Fire Services Department (FSD) will formulate the necessary FSI for the schools concerned based on the prevailing requirements. By retaining and maintaining the FSI installed at the school premises during the time of construction in efficient working order and conducting annual inspections for such installations in accordance with the Fire Service (Installations and Equipment) Regulations (Cap 95B), schools would have complied with the FSI requirements imposed by the FSD and by law. Schools can make use of the Expanded Operating Expenses Block Grant to pay for the relevant inspection fees and maintain and repair such installations and equipment through the annual major repairs exercise and emergency repairs mechanism. The Education Bureau (EDB) has implemented various measures over the years to enhance school facilities. Among these measures, the School Improvement Programme (SIP) was implemented between 1994 to 2006, under which about 700 ordinary public-sector schools built according to the planning standards when the schools were constructed have their school facilities enhanced. Apart from SIP, the EDB has also put in place other measures, including minor improvement projects and the annual major repairs exercise, to enhance school facilities and improve teaching and learning environment. Examples include addition or conversion of classrooms and special rooms, installation of barrier-free facilities, repair and replacement of facilities etc. Based on the EDB’s information, a majority of public-sector schools have already been equipped with major facilities, such as assembly halls, libraries, computer rooms or language rooms, ball courts or covered playgrounds. Meanwhile, under school-based management, schools may initiate changes to the intended use of some school facilities to meet students' needs and suit the overall school development. If no structural change of the building is entailed, such alterations made could be handled by the schools themselves without having to apply through or report to the EDB. Therefore, the EDB is not able to provide a breakdown of the relevant school facilities.

(4) New schools constructed after 1997 are in compliance with the prevailing requirements on barrier-free access promulgated by the Buildings Department to facilitate access to buildings and facilities by persons with disabilities. For schools built before 1997, the EDB will seek to install barrier-free facilities in need, such as lifts, toilets for persons with disabilities, ramps etc., as far as possible through the above-mentioned SIP and the annual major repairs exercise, taking into account relevant factors including technical feasibility, urgency for such facilities, and availability of alternative measures to facilitate access by persons with disabilities. Since taking up major repairs for aided schools in April 2010, the EDB has approved lift installation applications from 36 schools through the annual major repairs exercise, and 74 applications are also being processed under the same mechanism. Given lift installation works is relatively more complex and entails higher construction costs, the EDB will accord priority to schools with urgent needs, such as those serving more students with physical disabilities.

(6) and (7) The EDB values teaching and learning environment of schools. It has been the EDB's unchanging policy to ensure safety of school premises and enhance school facilities where feasible. Under the aforementioned SIP, apart from a small number of schools which were unable to benefit from the programme due to either infeasibility or low cost-effectiveness of the proposed works, most schools already had their facilities upgraded where technicality allowed. Given that school site and technical feasibility so permit, annexes were built for some schools to expand their campus. The scope of the last two phases of SIP has been further expanded with a view to enhancing school facilities to the prevailing standards as far as technically feasible, under which more than 300 schools were benefitted.
     Besides, a total of 12 new school premises have been completed for reprovisioning or redevelopment/expansion purposes in the past four years. At present, works under 12 school building projects with funding approved are proceeding as planned. Except a special school project, all the remaining projects are for reprovisioning or redevelopment/expansion purposes.
     Both the EDB and schools attach great importance to the condition of the school premises. The School Administration Guide has stated that as daily users, schools are responsible for maintaining the school premises in a safe and hygienic condition. They also have the responsibility to maintain and manage school premises, as well as to arrange maintenance works as necessary. In addition to the grants provided to schools for handling minor maintenance works, the EDB also conducts school premises maintenance through the annual major repairs exercise and the emergency repairs mechanism to improve facilities at public-sector schools in need. Since the EDB's taking up of major repair works for aided schools in April 2010, the average annual total project estimates of the approved major repair works amounted to some $840 million.
     We understand that the community is concerned about school facilities. However, given that resources are not unlimited, it would not be possible for the Government to fulfil wishes on enhancement works of all schools in an instant. We will continue to adopt a proactive and practical approach and bid for additional resources on a need basis to keep improving and enhancing school environment and facilities.

Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:10