A Thousand Warmer, Lighter Belarusian Schools and Hospitals

January 22, 2013

Irina Oleinik, Communications Officer in the Belarus World Bank Office, offers this story.

It is often said that school is home away from home. But if classrooms are so cold that pupils have to wear coats and so dark they can't read what is on the blackboard, it can hardly be called a comfortable home.

Imbuing children with the joy of learning while safeguarding their well-being can be achieved only in a warm, well-lit environment.

Eight year old Marina attends school with her older sister in a forty year old building in Gomel. The sisters were really cold last winter.

" The temperature in the classrooms dropped to 12º C; children sat in the classrooms in their jackets; and 70 percent of the windows were so badly broken that it was impossible to wash them. "

Zinaida Trofimovna

School Principal

That was the last cold winter inside school. Old windows and doors have been replaced with new and insulated ones, making school warmer and quieter. Traffic noise and other outside sounds no longer disrupt students' concentration.

Schools and kindergartens around the country were upgraded as part of the Social Infrastructure Retrofitting Project and the Post Chernobyl Recovery Project, supported by World Bank loans.

After completion, Gomel Oblast Education Department specialists analyzed ten schools where renovations were financed and found average indoor temperatures had increased from 16 to 20º C. School absences related to sickness were reduced by a third. New heating units that maintain constant classroom temperatures mean fewer children suffered from respiratory illnesses. And schools are able to regulate power consumption; for instance by turning down the heat during vacations.

New energy-saving light fixtures with automatic controls focus on desks and provide optimum illumination of black boards. Flickering lights that once aggravated children's eyes and caused fatigue are no longer a problem. Complaints of deteriorating vision became significantly less frequent. Teachers noted a boost in children's mood and ability to focus.

Thanks to energy-efficient technologies, the Gomel State Oblast Lyceum saves about $50,000 a year and spends that money for its other needs—which are many.

Schools are not the only public buildings that have become more comfortable thanks to the project. Hospitals have, too. A hospital stay is not the most enjoyable time in a person's life so it is important to provide patients with qualified medical care and a well lit, warm room free of drafts.

"I am satisfied with the temperature at the hospital. I was afraid that it was going to be cold in the unit where my elderly mother is staying. I had heard of the conditions in other hospitals, where it is so cold that you cannot even wash your hands and face. And it is quite warm here," says a relative visiting a patient at Minsk Clinical Hospital.

Some hospitals needed a lot of renovation. Alexander A. Dreichuk, Uzda District Hospital Chief Physician, says, "At our hospital, a boiler house was built and windows and doors were replaced. Previously, the heat losses amounted to 15% from each window. How was it possible to keep the building warm if all the heat escaped outside?"

Maria Eduardovna, his assistant, adds, "Prior to retrofitting the windows were kept in place with two nails. When they needed washing, we took out the windows, washed them and then put them back in place."

Hospital administrators analyzed their new systems. In the first three years Uzda hospital saved over $400,000 and used that surplus to buy equipment and medical supplies.

According to Ivan E. Lipnitski, Head of the Minsk Oblast Healthcare Department, "There is an impact and there are major benefits. We do not throw money down the drain, but invest it in an environmentally and economically sound way."

Retrofitting heating systems, installing thermal insulation and lighting brought more comfort and improved amenities to 500,000 people. Many of these institutions are located in territories affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.