20 Aug 2014
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Many Local Schools Face Earthquake Hazards, Could Be at Risk

State data is conflicting but suggests that some local schools may still be at risk in an earthquake.

Many Local Schools Face Earthquake Hazards, Could Be at Risk Many Local Schools Face Earthquake Hazards, Could Be at Risk Many Local Schools Face Earthquake Hazards, Could Be at Risk

Most schools serving Echo Park sit close to faults, liquefaction zones and other seismic hazards, state data show. Seven are classified as having unresolved safety issues that may put students at risk in a major earthquake.

The state has also cited at least three Echo Park schools for finishing building projects without resolving illegal safety issues--some related to earthquakes.

That doesn't mean these buildings couldn't survive an earthquake. But it does mean they should be constructed with earthquake safety in mind.

The findings were part of a 19-month investigation by the nonprofit California Watch news group, which was released Thursday and which uncovered holes in the state's enforcement of seismic safety regulations for public schools.

California began regulating school architecture for seismic safety in 1933 with the Field Act, but data taken from the Division of the State Architect’s Office shows 20,000 school projects statewide never got final safety certifications. In the crunch to get schools built within the last few decades, state architects have been lax on enforcement, California Watch reported.

A separate inventory completed nine years ago found 7,500 seismically risky school buildings in the state. Yet, California Watch reports that only two schools have been able to access a $200 million fund for upgrades.

In 2002, the newly passed AB 300 required state officials to examined records on all non-wooden structures at K-12 public schools—about 20 percent of all state school footage—before 1976. The goal was to determine the schools' potential to withstand damage or collapse during an earthquake.

Thousands of school buildings around the state were identified as problematic, and districts were encouraged to consider retrofitting them to conform to California’s 1976 Uniform Building Code, if they hadn’t already done so.  School districts were again contacted by the California Division of the State Architect (DSA)  in 2008 about their progress.

Echo Park area schools that still remain on the state’s so-called AB 300 list as of March 31 included , Micheltorena Elementary, Rosemont Avenue Elementary, Union Avenue Elementary, Belmont High School, John Marshall High school and Thomas Starr King Middle School.  may also be on the list.

Incomplete records make it hard to confirm that the issues at buildings identified in 2002 have since been resolved, even though they remain listed as potentially problematic. The list is maintained by the DSA, and information is provided voluntarily by the school districts.

Significantly, three Echo Park schools may also have been or still could be in violation of  California’s Field Act.

Rosemont Avenue Elementary, Allesandro Elementary and Belmont High School are included. According to state data, they all received a “Letter 4” from the State Architect’s office. The DSA issues a Letter 4 to projects it cannot certify as meeting the Field Act requirements due to safety hazards.  Sometimes projects are later certified, and in some cases it is just a question of providing better documentation.  But in other cases, real safety issues remain.

The following table details seismic risks and related state action for 14 local schools:

Allesandro Elementary Letter 4 (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Belmont High School A.B. 300 (2)/Letter 4 (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Betty Plasencia Elementary School Letter 4 (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Camino Nuevo Charter High No A.B. 300 or Letter 4 issues Near no seismic hazards Clifford Street Elementary No A.B. 300 or Letter 4 issues One or more seismic hazards Elysian Park Elementary No A.B. 300 or Letter 4 issues Near one or more seismic hazards John Marshall High No A.B. 300 or Letter 4 issues Near one or more seismic hazards Lake Street Primary No A.B. 300 or Letter 4 issues Near no seismic hazards Logan Street Elementary A.B. 300 project (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Mayberry Street Elementary No A.B. 300 or Letter 4 issues Near one or more seismic hazards Micheltorena Elementary A.B. 300 project (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Rosemont Avenue Elementary A.B. 300 project (1)/Letter 4 project (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Thomas Starr King Middle School A.B. 300 project (2) Near one or more seismic hazards Union Avenue Elementary A.B. 300 project (1) Near one or more seismic hazards Data provided by California Watch and the California Division of the State Architect

You can search for info on these and other schools yourself using the interactive map created by California Watch.

Patch will continue to look into the unresolved seismic safety issues and will report back when we have more information.

This story was produced using data provided to Patch by California Watch, the state's largest investigative reporting team and part of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Read more about with California Watch.

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