Collapsing kindergarten had filed complaintsA kindergarten in southern Seoul on the verge of collapsing after a retaining wall at an adjacent construction site gave way last Thursday had filed at least five complaints with the local district office about the construction work, the JoongAng Ilbo found.
However, immediately after the incident, the Dongjak District Office denied receiving them. It was only after the Sangdo Public Kindergarten revealed recommendations from geology and construction experts that it submitted to the office that officials admitted to receiving them. “The kindergarten sent us requests from March,” a district official said at a news conference on Friday.
The war of words between the kindergarten and district office has revealed slack inspection procedures that led to the wall collapse on Thursday and ultimately caused the kindergarten to lean at a precarious angle. On Sunday, the district office was forced to admit that it had received one final report from the kindergarten one day before the collapse, but no official had paid a visit to the school before the incident.
“We sincerely apologize for this,” a district official said at a news conference.
The office of Liberty Korea Party Rep. Hong Chul-ho found that the kindergarten had submitted a report to the district office in early April complaining about the site’s foundation. “The geological state in the area is quite weak,” the report said according to Hong’s office. “If the construction work happens without a thorough inspection of the ground, there may be a collapse.”
The JoongAng Ilbo found that the office then sent a reply to the kindergarten on April 4 that said, “We have conveyed your report to the safety inspection company and asked them to take due measure.”
The information turned out to be false. At the time, the construction site did not have a designated safety inspection company yet, an official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “So that was a fault of ours to state so in the document to the kindergarten,” the official said.
According to Hong’s office, the report from the kindergarten was actually conveyed to the construction company rather than a safety inspection company, which has the authority to shut down construction if it finds any problems with the site.
Police have begun a preliminary investigation into the construction company and district office for any possible violations of industry safety laws.
“It’s not an official investigation yet,” an officer at the Dongjak Police Precinct said on Monday. “We’ve requested background information from the district office and company, and they need to come in before we begin an official probe. We will try to find out if the company had properly tested the area’s geology and other relevant factors before starting its construction. We will also see if the district office violated any laws.”
On Sunday and Monday, the district office demolished a part of the building that was leaning precariously and plans to dispatch experts to see if the rest of the building can be salvaged.
BY HONG JI-YU, LIM SUN-YOUNG AND ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]