The private tutoring schools
that crowd Siam Square and buildings in Chinatown have become the Bangkok Metro-
politan Administration’s main targets for inspection as many
are believed to be potential
firetraps, Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin said yesterday.
Apirak said that almost all the schools in Siam Square were modified to pack as many students as possible into each class, and that they had sub-standard fire ladders.
Pathumwan and other district offices have started scrutinising buildings in their areas yesterday following Sunday’s fire and collapse of a building near the Hua Lamphong train station.
The city-wide surveys are expected to be completed, and results submitted to the governor, within 30 days.
“We are concerned about the cram schools, where we found narrow fire exits. I will go to inspect the tutoring schools myself and those found to be in neglect will have to be improved within seven days,” said the governor, adding that many buildings in the heart of Bangkok were illegally modified.
Tortrakul Yommanak of the Engineering Institute of Thailand said that many of the tutoring schools in Siam Square were modified from old commercial buildings and divided into many small classrooms. Some places have walkways that are too narrow and are lacking a fire exit and fire-warning signs.
He said that commercial buildings were typically designed for living or for small commerce, so there wasn’t much steel used in their construction. That makes the buildings unable to support too much weight.
“But cram school owners divided rooms inside the building into many smaller classrooms and they stuff too many students into each room,” said Tortrakul.
He added that the Education Ministry must be strict and grant licenses only to schools that are safe and that parents too should consider the safety of a school when choosing where their children will study.
Pornthep Leelacharaskul, the owner of a maths and science tutoring centre said that he had always ensured his school complied with safety standards set by the Education Ministry since he applied for his school’s license.
Despite the presence of fire-fighting equipment, he admitted that his building was very old. “The walls are so thin you can drive a nail through from one side to the other,” he said.
He said that in his 10 years of renting the property the BMA had never inspected his school and that the only inspections that were made were by officials from Chulalongkorn University, the property’s owner, on two occasions.
He added that some tutoring schools cram as many as 80 students into one small classroom, but that his school has a limit of 20 students per classroom.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra expressed concern over row houses in Chinatown, saying that ethnic Chinese people always packed a heavy amount of belongings into their homes.
Despite the growing size of their families, they don’t want to move to other larger places, and choose instead to enlarge old buildings so that they can contain more things and more people, the premier said.
“They don’t realise it is very dangerous,” he said, adding that he had ordered the Public Works Department, the BMA, and the Engineering Institute of Thailand to warn the buildings’ owners of the danger.
Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula also said there are many buildings in Chinatown that house flammable fabrics do not have fire safety measures.
Published on January 12, 2005