Numerous structures in the Redondo Beach Unified School District lack certification that they are in compliance with state building codes for earthquake safety, according to a California Watch report.
The report, released Thursday, is based on a 19-month investigation that uncovered holes in the state's enforcement of seismic safety regulations for public schools.
California has required tougher seismic safety standards in the construction of schools ever since passage of the Field Act after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. 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, California Watch reported, state architects have been lax on enforcement.
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.
Every school in —and even the district offices and other district-owned properties—has at least one project or structure that is uncertified under the Field Act or listed as seismically risky.
The California Watch investigation discovered that many structures in RBUSD are not certified under the Field Act, which was passed shortly after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The law imposes strict earthquake design standards and inspections during construction of public elementary, middle and high schools.
▪ Local Data: Redondo Beach Unified School District
Thirty-five projects in the district received Letter 3 grades from the Division of the State Architect. The projects have unpaid fees or are missing significant pieces of documentation and cannot be certified under the Field Act, according to Eric Lamoureux, a DSA spokesman.
RBUSD Director of Maintenance and Operations Fred Naile said the district's Letter 3 projects could be missing paperwork related to change orders, which must be completed every time part of the project is altered.
Seven of the Letter 3 projects were downgraded from Letter 4 status. A project with Letter 4 status generally has unresolved safety issues.
None of RBUSD's projects were given a Letter 4.
Errors in the State's Data?
Thirty-three projects in RBUSD were included on the state's AB 300 list, an inventory of public school buildings that don't meet the minimum requirements of the 1976 Uniform Building Code, which strengthened earthquake standards. The list is named after the 1999 state Assembly bill that asked the DSA to index the buildings.
According to data from the DSA, multiple buildings on the AB 300 list in the district probably would not perform well in the event of an earthquake. However, Naile said it appeared that most of the structures in that category were misclassified as having a rigid diaphragm that probably would not perform well in an earthquake.
"Somehow we've got some bad data here," Naile said. "I've got to get this amended."
Naile said the structures should have been classified as wood-frame and plaster buildings, which are more flexible and thus more forgiving during an earthquake.
Sandy Pringle, whose company contracts with the district to inspect construction projects, downplayed the number of uncertified and AB 300 projects in RBUSD.
"Every district has a ton of them," he said, emphasizing that a significant portion of the uncertified projects are simply missing paperwork.
Additionally, school districts cannot move forward with new projects at a structure until the certification on prior projects is finished.
"We have a program in place that we are actively pursuing every open [project] in this district to close them in the next couple of years," Naile said.
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Naile also said the district's buildings are not in danger of collapsing during an earthquake.
"Where does everybody run to when there's a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, natural disaster?" Naile asked. "Where are you going to find everybody? At the gymnasium. Why? Because it was lucky? No. The gymnasium's not lucky.
"School buildings are built rock-solid."
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. about Patch's partnership with California Watch.