Urgent questions over roof collapse

Editorial | 23 May 2016

It was lucky that only three persons were slightly injured after the roof of the Chan Tai Ho Multi-purpose Hall on the fifth floor of the Hu Fa Kuang Sports Centre at City University collapsed on Friday.

Had the roof fallen around people's ears a day later, it would have been disastrous, for a major event was to be held underneath.

Who wouldn't be shocked by the "tofu" construction that was thought possible only in the mainland? It's legitimate to ask what's wrong with our building safety monitor that's supposed to be world-class.

In the immediate aftermath of the roof collapse, CityU was wishy-washy in its response to the question of whether it had submitted a proper plan about the extra greenery on top of the hall to the Buildings Department.

It wasn't until the evening that the university said the work had been vetted and endorsed by Kenneth Chan Jor-kin, former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors - although no plan was submitted.

However, Chan denied CityU's claim, and said he reserved the right to take legal action against the university.

It's appalling to see the conflicting statements, for it should be a rather straightforward matter, since the authorized person - if any - must have documentation. Therefore, the university should have little difficulty in producing proof to back its claim. Failing this would only undermine its credibility, with the public accusing it of trying to be misleading.

CityU is forming an eight-person committee to investigate the cause. The scope is insufficient, and must be expanded to establish responsibility - be it an individual or otherwise.

The incident has exposed grave inadequacies in statutory supervision. It was revealed afterward that there is no clear provision regulating such rooftop greenery, although they're increasingly common nowadays.

Now, there's nothing wrong with greening the rooftop, per se, which can help reduce energy consumption in the buildings. However, such work must be properly regulated to ensure it meets safety standards.

It's extremely regrettable the building ordinance hasn't been brought up to date in this regard.

Regulations should be specific - leaving the matter to individual interpretation of the code will only lead to confusion and, even worse, questionable quality control. Public safety can't be compromised.

The multi-purpose hall was built about 20 years ago without the soil and vegetation. Given the size of four basketball courts, the type of roof was simply unsuitable. Anyone understanding physics should know the potential risk that topping it with soil and vegetation would bring, especially during rainy season.

It's a disaster waiting to happen. Statutory regulations are urgently needed.

After the incident, CityU removed similar green toppings from other buildings - a step that's both natural and necessary, for other collapses could happen.

The concern is that such greenery can also be found in many other schools and private developments across the SAR. It seems a general safety inspection is inevitable.

If the issue isn't dealt with properly, there will be serious political repercussions.

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