Hearing held on seismic safety of California schools

April 27, 2011 5:51:11 PM PDT
Thousands of school children in California are in danger from earthquakes because of dangerous lapses in seismic work around the state. That's the testimony given on Wednesday from parents and Bay Area school administrators in Sacramento. The hearings followed investigative work by ABC7's media partner California Watch.

Portola Middle School is a glaring example of one of those lapses. It's now closed and will be torn down because it has such serious seismic issues, yet it never appeared on the state's list of vulnerable schools.

Bryan Burns is a parent who traveled from Pescadero to Sacramento to tell lawmakers what he thinks of the state's oversight of seismic upgrades in schools.

"It's a lose run organization. Documents are missing. School district are not reporting to the Division of the State Architect that they are doing jobs and in our school district, nothing was reported to the state," said Burns.

In Pescadero, Burns found structural work at the local high school had been done without the state's approval. Last month, California Watch sifted through documents provided by the Division of the State Architect and found serious lapses like those in Pescadero that could put California school children in danger in a major earthquake. As many as 20,000 school renovation projects did not conform with the Field Act, which requires all school projects be earthquake resistant.

David Thorman is the former state architect. He said, "There are projects out there where districts have either not known to come through DSA for review and certification or they've purposely avoided us."

Another issue for district administrators is the state's AB 300 list, which includes 7,500 schools in need of seismic upgrades and it has some serious omissions.

"What was not on the list was our most vulnerable building in our entire school district, a wood-frame elementary school consisting of two wings," said Michael Brady from the Piedmont School District.

Seismologist Mary Lou Zoback says the recent Japanese earthquake provides many lessons for California.

"It's revealed what we've known, that a lot of times earthquakes happen in places we're not quite expecting," said Mary Lou Zoback, a seismologist.

Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, presided over the senate hearings Wednesday. They were informational, but Corbett may pursue legislation or at least some reform over how the state presides over seismic upgrades at schools.


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