School principal B.K. Sharma used to agonize over the safety of his 1,500 students in earthquake-prone New Delhi. Today, with a winning smile, he will tell you how their sprawling 3-story school, not originally designed for heavy shaking, became a model for earthquake safety. Ludlow Castle School was the first large school in India retrofitted to resist earthquake collapse. Retrofitting generally costs less and can be done faster than building new, but before Ludlow there were few examples of how to strengthen an existing school of this size.
Principal Sharma made sure that heavy furnishings are braced, because falling objects cause serious injuries.
Every room was altered inside and out. “Belts” made of steel mesh and concrete were added to reinforce brick walls, and corner reinforcements were added to tie walls and ceilings together. The crew took just over 6 months and did not disrupt a single day of class (as if Principal Sharma would have allowed), working after hours and nights during session, and round the clock during break.
Shown mid construction, “seismic belts” wrap the walls and window openings. Because of its safety, the city plans to use this school as a post-disaster relief shelter. GeoHazards International conceived this project as a way for Delhi Public Works Department engineers to develop local retrofit know-how. We provided expert mentors and introduced construction planning that minimized classroom disturbances. Ten years later, the lead engineer, contractor, and project engineers are experts who train others, having applied their Ludlow experience to many projects. Principal Sharma would add that a generation of his students became trainers as well, in earthquake readiness. They assembled their family emergency kit and even learned to use a fire extinguisher. Thousands of students across India join their ranks each year by participating in earthquake safety training that GeoHazards International launched at Ludlow.
GHI’s Hari Kumar uses a model of furnished rooms on a “shaking table” to show how bracing heavy objects can prevent injuries. The building itself steadily draws professionals from India and abroad who are keen to study the retrofit challenges and solutions. Ken Kornberg, an architect and GHI's Board chair, was a recent visitor. “In Delhi, amid buildings full of people that are not going to survive an earthquake, it's gratifying to see a well-retrofitted old school,” he said.
Would you like to visit this retrofitted school next time you are in Delhi? If so, contact Hari Kumar, GHI’s South Asia Regional Coordinator, at Hari@geohaz.org.
This school was one of five retrofit case studies in a project funded by the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi; the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India; and US Agency for International Development (USAID).