War on Terrorism

Friday, September 14, 2007

School Renovation Under Way in Baghdad Sunni-Shiia Neighborhood

By Norris Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service

Sept. 14, 2007 - Families in a neighborhood that sits between Sunni and Shiia areas of west Baghdad are looking forward to the re-opening of their secondary school. Thifaf Al Neel School -- near the Baghdad International Airport in the Al Bayaa Beladiya neighborhood -- is being doubled in size, said Maj. Clark Johnson of the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the work.

Local leaders there believe that once the project is finished, the school will help the community refocus on fundamental Iraqi priorities such as education and help reconcile their differences, Johnson noted.

"They know that the key to success is hard work and education. Just like in the United States, their schools are the heart of their community – a place for hope. And the local council president is very grateful for this investment. He knows the unifying potential it offers residents there."

The existing 13-classroom structure is more than 30 years old, and little had been invested in maintenance and upkeep. The roof was leaking, some of the classroom floors were buckled, the sidewalks were cracked, and the rest rooms were in deplorable condition, Johnson said.

"The contractor is repairing the roof, putting in a whole new electrical system, replacing the florescent lights, installing ceiling fans and smoke detectors, renovating the rest rooms, repairing and painting all the interior walls, and putting in new floors and sidewalks where needed," he said.

"We're significantly expanding that school as well," he continued, "constructing 11 additional classrooms and two labs. We're also increasing the size of their playground area, installing colored concrete tiles in a new 476-square-meter area so the students have more mud-free space for recreation."

When the project is finished, Johnson said, it will have "a dramatic impact on the learning environment there."

Johnson is overseeing six other projects involving schools in southern Baghdad province, and that number should double soon, he said.

"It's very rewarding work helping the Iraqi people rebuild their country," he said. "I'm proud to be part of our efforts here."

Johnson is a member of the North Dakota Engineer Brigade, 34th Infantry Division, which deployed in April to Iraq. He is a National Guard soldier, and for the past 12 years has been the Civil Engineer at Camp Grafton, Devils Lake, N.D. He said his wife, Lisa, and their children -- Stephanie, 8, and Daniel, 7 -- understand how important his mission is and have been very supportive during his time away, along with the entire Devils Lake community.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has overseen the renovation of more than 100 schools in Baghdad province in the past four years.

(Norris Jones is a public affairs specialist with the Gulf Region Central District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

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