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LAUSD moving slowly on older school earthquake retrofits

Yana Gracile | August 28, 2014



Earthquake preparedness LAUSDWith last weekend’s 6.0 earthquake in Napa County as the latest reminder of the need for earthquake preparedness, LA Unified is progressing slowly in retrofitting school buildings deemed vulnerable.

In accordance with a state law known as AB 300, the district in 2006 conducted a seismic evaluation and identified 667 buildings constructed before 1976 that required possible retrofits to withstand a big earthquake. The buildings were ranked by priority, looking at three risk factors: age, type of construction and proximity to an earthquake fault.

Since the list was released, only 17 buildings on school sites have been retrofitted to protect against earthquakes. Currently, 15 buildings on 10 school sites are in the design phase, meaning that experts are determining the scope of a retrofit or whether the building needs to be torn down and rebuilt.

“This is a further study of our priority buildings. Those are the ones within two miles of a known fault,” Roger Finstad, LAUSD’s director or maintenance and operations told LA School Report.

The survey of buildings begins with a seismic evaluation, which could take up to a year, followed by the design phase and finally the actual retrofit or upgrades.

Diana Friend, whose nine-year-old son attends West Hollywood Elementary, a school on the list of buildings in need of a retrofit, said the Napa earthquake made her think more about her child’s safety.

“What happens the next time when my son is at school and an earthquake hits?” she said. “Will he be safe? Will the building be able to withstand the next big one? That’s a really big issue for me.”

She also plans to send her four-year-old daughter to the same school.

“The safety of my kids is my top priority and I want to know that my kids are safe when they’re in school,” she said.

Meanwhile, Finstad said that when many of the schools were built decades ago, they were constructed according to stringent state building codes in place at the time so the buildings have a good chance of withstanding an earthquake.

“Should we have an earthquake like the one that occurred in Napa, we would expect our buildings to perform quite well,” he said.

However, the ongoing retrofitting efforts will allow the district to bring all of the structures up to current earthquake safety standards.

Tom Rubin, a consultant to the independent Bond Oversight Committee that monitors LAUSD construction spending, said the district has been working hard for many years to do the retrofits.

“All of the higher priority retrofits have been completed,” he told LA School Report. “So it’s now working through the lower priority. There’s a limit to how many you can do in any one time given that some of these require that the schools be taken out of service in many cases or at least some buildings.”

According to the State’s Architect Office, AB 300 doesn’t require school districts to engage in a seismic evaluation or even retrofit their facilities.

 “But the district has gone beyond that when something happens, like a new fault is discovered,” he said. “They’ve taken steps as appropriate to go to a greater standard for safety.”

The total retrofitting will cost between $1-$1.5 billion.

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