RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – It has taken six years but Rio de Janeiro has finally begun complying with one of its most publicised Olympic promises – to transform one of the sporting venues into schools.
Workers last week began carefully dismantling the Handball Arena in the Olympic Park, the vast area that in 2016 hosted 16 Olympic events and 10 Paralympic ones, including tennis, cycling, swimming.
Engineers took down walls and will soon strip the electrics, hydraulics, pipes and internal dividing walls from the venue where the Danish men and Russian women won gold medals.
Other equipment such as lifts and air conditioning units will also be repurposed for use in four state schools, each of which will be home to 245 students.
All four new schools will be built in Rio’s West Zone, close to where many Olympic events took place.
The transformation plan was much vaunted by the city as a way of making the Rio Olympics – the first to be held in South America – more inclusive and socially responsible.
“All these Olympic structures were conceived to be easy to dismantle so that part, not all, of the material could be used to construct public schools,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said as he watched the initial deconstruction take place last week.
“It’s the first step in executing our Olympic Legacy Plan that was sidelined over the last few years.”
Paes estimated the transformation will take 18 months to finish. The nearby arena where Michael Phelps won five golds is due to be imploded, with the steel sold off or used for other construction projects, the city said.
The reason for the almost six-year delay is down largely to politics.
Paes left office in 2017 and the transformation program lay dormant under Marcelo Crivella, the right-wing mayor who ran Rio between 2017 and 2021.
The Olympic Park lay untended for some time after the Games ended and was even shuttered in 2020 by a judge who considered the rotting 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 senior figures involved in the Rio Olympic organisation to emerge relatively unscathed from a series of corruption probes.
The head of both the Rio bid and the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison last year for money laundering, corruption and other crimes connected to vote-buying.
His right-hand man, former Rio 2016 director of operations Leonardo Gryner, was also convicted of collaborating to bribe IOC officials to swing the vote in Rio’s favour, while Rio state governor Sergio Cabral was sentenced to more than 400 years in prison for his involvement in the scandals.
(Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)