RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – It’s taken six years, but Rio de Janeiro has finally started to deliver on one of its most publicized Olympic promises – to turn one of the sports venues into schools.
Last week, workers began carefully dismantling the Olympic Park handball hall, the sprawling area that hosted 16 Olympic and 10 Paralympic events in 2016, including tennis, cycling and swimming.
Engineers have knocked down walls and will soon remove electrical, hydraulics, pipes and internal dividing walls from the site where Danish men and Russian women won gold medals.
Other equipment such as elevators and air conditioning units will also be repurposed for use in four public schools, each of which accommodates 245 students.
The four new schools will be built in the western area of Rio, close to where many Olympic events have taken place.
The transformation plan has been highly touted by the city as a way to make the Rio Olympics – the first to be held in South America – more inclusive and socially responsible.
“All of these Olympic structures were designed to be easy to dismantle so that some, not all, of the material could be used to build public schools,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said as he watched the initial deconstruction take place last week.
“This is the first step in executing our Olympic legacy plan that has been shelved over the past few years.”
Paes estimated that the transformation will take 18 months to complete. The nearby arena where Michael Phelps won five gold medals is set to implode, with the steel sold or used for other construction projects, the city has announced.
The reason for the nearly six-year delay is largely political.
Paes left office in 2017 and the transformation program was dormant under Marcelo Crivella, the right-wing mayor who led Rio between 2017 and 2021.
The Olympic Park went unattended for some time after the Games ended and was even closed in 2020 by a judge who deemed the decaying facilities a danger to the public.
Paes was re-elected to succeed Crivella in 2020 and has made infrastructure one of his priorities.
The 52-year-old mayor was one of the few figures involved in Rio’s Olympic organization to emerge relatively unscathed from a series of corruption investigations.
The head of Rio’s bid and the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, was sentenced last year to more than 30 years in prison for money laundering, bribery and other vote-buying crimes.
His right-hand man, former Rio 2016 operations director Leonardo Gryner, was also found guilty of collaborating in the bribery of IOC officials to sway the vote in favor of Rio, while the governor of the Rio State Sergio Cabral was sentenced to more than 400 years in prison for his involvement. in scandals.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)