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Safety revamp for old British jail
2013-11-15
By Yang Jian

A FORMER jailhouse built by the British 90 years ago and now home to 260 families is to undergo major safety improvements, Yangpu District government said yesterday.

Built round a courtyard, Longchang Villa on Pingliang Road stands next to Yangpu District Police bureau.

Illegally built additions — such as kitchens in corridors — and dangerous wiring will be removed and fire alarms and fire extinguishers installed, said officials.

Residents said the work is much-needed.

“The building is in a poor condition and the government should try to improve our living conditions,” resident Zhang Li told Shanghai Daily while washing bowls in sink installed by her family in the corridor.

Zhang, who was born in the building some 50 years ago, said she witnessed a neighbor’s steel window suddenly crash down to the street below one morning several years ago. Luckily, no one was passing at the time.

The British built the five-story structure in the 1920s as a jailhouse and police station. Its ground floor was the jailhouse, with prisoners taking exercise in the courtyard, while the upper stories were police offices.

The structure, which takes three minutes to walk around, is home to some 3,000 residents.

Former cells and offices were divided to fit in more residents, who then built kitchens and bathrooms in the corridor.

The building was listed among historic protected buildings by the city government in 2004 but has long lacked protection.

Residents had voiced concerns about the fire risk caused by kitchens built in the corridor and flammable goods nearby.

“We don’t want to see the whole building burn down if a fire breaks out,” said resident Wang Weijie.

Longchang Villa has very few extinguishers — and some date back to 1965, said Yang Jianrong, an official with the Donglin Temple Residential Committee that manages the building. Some residents said much more work was needed.

“These measures are far from enough,” said the 93-year-old Li Shanfang, the oldest resident in the building.

Li lives alone in a 15-square-meter apartment and has to walk 50 meters from the building to use a public toilet.

But Li has more space than most, for Yang said the standard home has five people living in a 19-square-meter apartment.

The committee and residents reported the conditions to the government last month, but it was not selected for a full revamp because it was listed as a villa. Villas are classified as more upmarket than some other old residential accommodation.

“And we can’t apply for affordable housing to move out because the building is a villa. That’s ridiculous,” said Zhang.

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