MARSHALLS ISLANDS NATIONAL GYM LIES NEGLECTED

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Funding to repair fallen roof unavailable

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 6, 2012) - More than six months after part of its roof collapsed from termite damage, the Marshall Islands national gymnasium sits silently — no basketball, volleyball or other sports activities happening, and little prospect of it getting back into use in 2012.

Behind the scenes, the Marshall Islands Ministry of Public Works has produced cost estimates for replacing the roof, Chief Secretary Casten Nemra has initiated discussions with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on possible help, and JICA has responded with plans to send a technical survey team to Majuro.

But funding for fixing this national sports asset — the only recreation center of its kind in Majuro — has not yet been identified, and it is not included in the current year priority projects identified by the government for US Compact funding this year.The Marshall Islands is hoping to get help from Japan, though Japan officials say large-scale funding is unlikely.

JICA resident representative Junji Ishizuka said Wednesday that when JICA completes a construction project such as the gym and turns it over to the host nation, "it becomes the recipient’s responsibility." The problem, he said, was lack of maintenance by the Republic of the Marshall Islands government.

Despite this, Japan does not want to see this important sports facility sitting idle and further deteriorating, Ishizuka said. In response to the request for assistance from the Marshall Islands, a technical survey team from Japan is expected to arrive by March to evaluate the problem and offer recommendations for renovation.

Heavy termite damage caused the partial collapse of the roof, and has also caused considerable damage to the wood roof support beams throughout the rest of the gym.

Public Works has estimated one option for replacing the roof using a steel frame will cost about $800,000. But whatever option is chosen it is unlikely that Japan can or will fund the entire cost. "We will consult with the RMI regarding co-financing options," Ishizuka said.

"The closing of the facility is unhappy for both RMI and JICA," he said. "We’d like to recover the facility."

Ministry of Public Works’ Project Management Unit official Melvin Dacillo said that the ministry is reviewing the possibility of re-roofing the ECC with a steel structure that would cost in the neighborhood of $800,000. This proposal has been submitted to the RMI government for consideration, he said.

This would likely require retrofitting the ECC for additional support to hold the heavier roof but would eliminate the termite concern, Dacillo said.

The big issue, according to both Nemra and Dacillo, is where to get funding for the facility.

"Discussions on ECC are on-going at this stage," Nemra said. "Recently, we have been made aware that JICA is initiating a second assessment team to come to Majuro soon for further review and determination, a positive gesture which hopefully will lead to a favorable outcome."

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