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L.A. School District Reviewing List of Possibly Quake-Prone Buildings

In event of an earthquake, LAUSD's new Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies would be a safe place to be.
In event of an earthquake, LAUSD's new Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies would be a safe place to be.
Michael Locke/LA Weekly Flickr pool.

If seeing dozens of L.A. public school buildings on UC Berkeley's list of possibly quake-prone buildings in the area shocked you, don't be too alarmed yet.

See also: List of Possibly Quake-Prone Buildings Includes Malls, Schools, Hospitals.

The L.A. Unified School District has known about most, if not all, of these structures since at least 2003 - and it's been working on replacing or retrofitting them for years, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

In fact, ... 

 ... since mid-2013 the district has been working with a $166 million budget dedicated solely to earthquake retrofitting and modernization, says LAUSD director of maintenance and operations Roger Finstad.

A 2002 state law (AB 300) required all school districts in the state to create a list of their pre-1976 buildings and determine if they needed to be upgraded.

The LAUSD's list probably mirrors what UC Berkeley has in its list, except that it will have checked off some, if not many, of the buildings as a result of its retrofits, rebuilds and upgrades, Finstad tells us:

We think there's a very good chance everything we see from UC Berkeley we already have on our to-do list or have deemed these buildings do meet code and the work's already been addressed.

Findstad refused to address the condition of specific campuses on the list, including Hamilton High School, Hollywood High School and Marina del Rey Middle School. But he did offer the demolition of buildings in a fault zone under University High School in West Los Angeles as an example of how the district acts with deliberation. 

However, a California Watch report from a few years ago says thousands of California schools "never received the required final safety certifications" following state-required retrofitting and modernization.

The Berkeley list, published over the weekend - and included at the bottom of this story - identifies nearly 1,500 buildings in the city of Los Angeles that were constructed before mid-1976 earthquake code regulations went into effect. Most of the structures are believed to be nonductile concrete structures of the type that might see damage or even fail in the event of a 7-plus Richter scale quake in the area.

However, Berkeley researchers note that not all the buildings belong on the catch-all list: Some have been upgraded and others were built to higher standards despite being pre-1976. UC Berkeley engineering professor Jack Moehle told us he believes the list he helped create is about 93 percent accurate in terms of how many buildings are of the quake-prone concrete variety.

L.A. School District Reviewing List of Possibly Quake-Prone Buildings
A new LAUSD campus downtown by Dan Freund/LA Weekly Flickr pool.

The researchers believe that a maximum of five percent of the buildings on the list, or as many as 75, could collapse in the event of a major temblor.

Finstad said the LAUSD will take about two months to review the Berkeley list and compare it to its own. We asked for the district's documentation on which pre-1976 school buildings need to be upgraded (or have been upgraded or replaced) but were refused immediate access.

He told us the district is constantly upgrading its schools, and that the work is never done because standards get more stringent every decade:

We have done a tremendous amount of earthquake retrofitting here at the school district. There's a possibility some schools haven't been retrofitted. ... There's a chance they don't need it, or they do and when we do we will. ... We'll be in the retrofitting business for 10 or 15 years if not longer.


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