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News | July 29, 2021

Engineers help to improve educational opportunities in Mongolia

By Anica Lind USACE Alaska District

In a country experiencing a shortage of critical educational facilities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District is overseeing the design and construction of kindergartens to better the lives of children in Mongolia.

Over the last three years, the district has partnered with the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to improve educational opportunities for more than 300 students throughout Mongolia.

In 2019 alone, kindergartens were built in the communities of Baruunturuun Soum, Uvs; Erdenetsagaan Soum, Sukhbaatar; Sainshand, Dornogovi; and Sukhbaatar, Selenge.

Most of the new schools are in underserved areas where the standing infrastructure was constructed before Mongolia’s building code existed.

“The new kindergartens focus on improving the living conditions of Mongolians in impoverished urban centers, while providing a model of low-cost, high-efficient structures that can be applied anywhere in Mongolia to reduce fuel and energy consumption,” said Rebecca Rosenquist, project manager.

Humanitarian Assistance

The delivery of schools is fostered through the district’s humanitarian assistance program which serves as a tool for diplomacy as it forms and strengthens relationships between the U.S. and its allies.

“These projects build relationships, establish trust and open doors to more partnership opportunities, as well as making the United States the ‘partner of choice’ for security cooperation,” said Dave Hurley, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liaison to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

To design and build the kindergartens, the district and its partners coordinate and plan the kindergarten projects with guidance from other agencies.

For example, the embassy works closely with the Mongolian Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sports to identify high-priority locations where kindergartens are needed so the district can prepare, design and construct schools in the desired areas.

“The U.S. government wants to provide buildings that are sustainable for Mongolia and it is helping to improve the Mongolia building standards by providing more energy efficient structures,” Rosenquist said.  “The Alaska District ensures that the kindergartens are built using the Mongolian building standards and are commissioned under the local authorities.”

Each school is constructed by local contractors, affording businesses and skilled trade workers the opportunity to learn how to develop and build low-cost, high-efficient structures on their own.

“The U.S. kindergartens are considered by Mongolians to be THE standard, which stands as a testament to U.S. engineering, design and quality,” said Lt. Col. Philip Luu, senior defense official for the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  “As a matter of fact, the Mongolian Minister of Construction visited a kindergarten and has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist the ministry with improving the design and building standards for Mongolia.”

Design and Effects

The kindergartens are equipped with a minimum of two classrooms and an office for faculty. Classrooms include an instructional area, sleeping area, changing area and restroom.

All the schools also include improved heating systems as the previous buildings had antiquated heating systems that were not conducive to Mongolia’s climate which reaches below minus 40 degrees in the winter.

As the global expert in cold climate engineering, the district designs each kindergarten with centralized heating and various insulation materials that are made to withstand the harsh temperatures.

“Having centralized heating creates a safe and comfortable environment for kids to play, study, sleep and eat,” Luu said.

Each school also functions as a high efficiency building by lowering energy consumption as well as improving air quality and living conditions for all that use the facility.

“Reducing energy consumption lowers the cost to operate the kindergartens and increases environmental quality in Mongolia by reducing the use of coal for heat,” Rosenquist said.

Along with heating improvements, these educational institutions have a multitude of positive effects on students, communities and government relations as the U.S. kindergartens “outshine and outlast” all existing kindergartens in Mongolia, according to Luu.

“The new kindergartens reduce the strain on existing kindergartens, improve the learning environment and improve the teacher-student ratio,” Luu said. “The kindergartens also demonstrate to communities and governments the commitment that the U.S. has towards helping Mongolia.”

Currently, two additional kindergartens, located in Dadal and Ulaangom, are in the design phase and are projected to be built in 2022.

“The greatest thing about building these kindergartens in Mongolia is that it is an undeniable sign of the United States’ desire to help other countries,” Luu said. “And what better way is there to help another country than to help that country’s children get an education?”