Thousands Of Local Schools May Be In Danger Of Collapse During Quake

By Randy Paige

DOWNEY (CBS) — Parents at Warren High School in Downey were shocked by what we discovered about a two-story concrete classroom building that does not meet today’s earthquake-related building codes.

But it was just one of thousands of school buildings that state experts said could be putting children at risk in the next big earthquake, including schools from Laguna Beach to Ventura; San Bernardino to Glendora; and many communities in between.

The wakeup call came on the evening of March 10, 1933, in Long Beach when 230 school buildings were either destroyed or severely damaged in a 6.3-magnitude quake.

Just one month later strict regulations were passed making public schools some of the safest buildings in the state. But there is a loophole and the experts told us it is a big one. State law only requires school buildings to meet the building codes that were in existence at the time the buildings were constructed.

So when the math building at Warren High School was built in January of 1955, it was perfectly acceptable to use non-ductile concrete. Sixteen years later, when another non-ductile concrete building, Olive View Hospital, collapsed in the Sylmar Earthquake, this type of concrete was banned in all new buildings.

But the public schools cast in concrete before the ban have been allowed to stand to this day.

“Non ductile means it doesn’t like to bend,” said geologist and architect Gary McGavin.

He has designed more than a billion-dollars worth of school buildings in California and is a commissioner on the seismic safety commission.

“The non-ductile reinforced concrete tried to remain rigid, tried to hold on, but at some point it can’t hold on anymore and it releases all its energy explosively,” McGavin explained.

Responding to the concern about old school buildings, the state put together a list of all existing structures that carry the risk of collapse in an earthquake.

More than 7,500 buildings were identified, including the gym at Laguna Beach High School and many of the classrooms at Sunnyside Elementary School in Garden Grove. According to state records, those buildings are made of stiff concrete walls attached to flexible roofs, another type of construction at risk of collapse in an earthquake.

At Glendora High School nearly all of the classrooms are made from non-ductile concrete. Same story at Hillview Middle School in East Whittier.

You might assume that seismic upgrades have been made to those buildings, but…

“There have been no seismic upgrades,” said Lee Bean who heads operations for the East Whittier Unified School District.

“I don’t have concerns. All of our buildings have been through three major earthquakes and have shown no structural damage, so therefore we’re pretty confident they will withstand anything that’s comparable to what we’ve already seen,” Bean said.

“That’s kind of like, ‘I’ve never been in a bad car accident, so I shouldn’t wear my safety belt.’ [It] makes no sense. You should be prepared,” McGavin said.

But there is some progress. L.A. Unified said that all remaining non-ductile concrete buildings will be retrofitted or removed within the next few years. The district has a full-time structural engineer on staff, who is inspecting all of the older buildings.

But the buildings we looked at have not been looked at because of a money problem.

“We haven’t done it because they didn’t attach any money to that bill to enable us to do that.”

He explained that there was no point in having a structural engineer come to take a look at a building if there is no money to fix it.

But McGavin said that retrofits can be inexpensive.

“Sometimes they can be fixed as simply as putting a carbon fiber rap around the columns and the beams,” he said.

Parents at Warren High in Downey questioned money allocation.

“They spend almost 2-point-something million on the new track and field, why couldn’t they put some of that money into the buildings,” asked Tim Sullivan, whose daughter, Kaitlin, is a senior.

“It’s scary because earthquakes are probably one of the things I’m most scared of. I never contemplated that the building would fall,” Kaitlin said.

Does it make sense for us to continue to send kids into public schools that were built decades ago and have not been retrofitted, I asked?

“If you’re going to school every single day, five days a week, you probably ought to be reasonably safe from partial collapse.”

We’re not there yet, but…

“No, we know how to get there.”

The lessons were learned forty years ago. The question today is, are they worth the price?

» Download A Spreadsheet To See How Your School Compares

Green: Building types expected to perform well in future earthquakes
Red: Building types requiring detailed seismic evaluation
Orange: Mix of both building types above
Blue: Undetermined

More from Randy Paige
Comments

One Comment

  1. Chris Boyle says:

    how do you translate a building # into a particular school?

  2. Sue says:

    That spreadsheet was useless.

    1. Katrina says:

      If you can’t figure out witch on is your childs school you should call the school and ask them or call the school district and ask they directly . It is the way the school districts list them not cbs . This spreadsheet was very easy for me and very helpful. At least they were nice enough to infrom us and its up to you to do the rest after all would you have even questioned your childs school if they did not have this story ?

    2. Katrina says:

      If you can’t figure out witch one is your childs school you should call the school and ask them or call the school district and ask they directly . It is the way the school districts list them not cbs . This spreadsheet was very easy for me and very helpful. At least they were nice enough to infrom us and its up to you to do the rest after all would you have even questioned your childs school if they did not have this story ?

    3. Bj Dahl says:

      What are your questions? The spreadsheet includes the school name, building #’s identified and whether or not there is a risk. Is there something specific you are looking for that is not on the document?

  3. Jim says:

    How can you have the same school named twice one red and one green. I don’t understand your spreadsheet. Too man duplicates with multiple ratings.

    Perhaps a specific address for each school with one rating per school would help.

    1. Duh!blk says:

      Because schools have more than one building. One can be newer than the other and thus get a green rating while the older building gets a red rating. This is why they put in the building numbers. (Jim you can slap yourself on the forehead and say “Doh!” now).

      Within a single school district, I would think that they would not have two schools with the same name. Therefore, putting addresses is a moot point, unless you don’t know where your children go to school.

  4. D says:

    your right Sue… it was useless!

  5. Hemali says:

    This spreadsheet does not help.???

  6. PJ says:

    If it’s true with these schools, we are dumping millions into lunch programs why
    can’t parents be responsible for their kids bringing healthy packed lunches!
    Why does the government have to provide this too. Fix our schools!! Whathappened to the lottery $$$$$$$

  7. Katrina says:

    Great my childrens school failed . I am so scared to send them to school. It is bad enough that they don’t like there. The whole CA school district needs a over haul building wise and education wise . I regret ever moving here . I sould be able to send my children to school with being worried if they are safe . If something ever does happen to my children I will sue them because to know its not safe and not fix it is irresponsible on there behalf . I am already looking for a new school due to the way the schools lack of good teachers and administrators . Now thanks to this spead sheet I can make sure I send them to a earthquake safe school .

  8. Duh! says:

    “That’s kind of like, ‘I’ve never been in a bad car accident, so I shouldn’t wear my safety belt.’ [It] makes no sense. You should be prepared,” McGavin said.

    Hmmm… since 1955 the buildings have been through some major earthquakes (Sylmar, Northridge, Whittier-Narrows….)

    Not sure this analogy is an effective one.

  9. Daniel says:

    This spreadsheet IS useless. It doesn’t specify city or whether the school is an elementary, middle, or high school, for the most part. A lot of schools have the same name, so this spreadsheet essentially says nothing. And it’s not comprehensive at all. Looks like someone just threw it together in five minutes to attach it to the story.

  10. Sherri Vadkerti says:

    How do I find information on Orange County schools?

  11. Bob Patton says:

    Amen to what Daniel has said.–This spreadsheet is useless–The anchors make it sound good bur-t it “Sucks.”
    additionally, it is always stated how “Prepared” all these anchors have to be.. What a joke. If anyone listens to the news throughout the day, the same damn stories are repeated over and over.. Hell a robot could read that script.
    Finally, the weatherman-Tell the idiots I can read the temperature numbers on the screen. Get them the hell off tv and bring in a sixth grader to do the same jobOR the robot.

  12. Millie says:

    How do I find information on South and North Orange Country Schools? I know about Laguna Beach.

  13. C says:

    On the air, they said we could look up schools by district. That is not what can be done with this spreadsheet. It appears to only cover one district. Where is the rest of the information?

  14. Jenn Hustead says:

    there are tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet to go between districts/counties…. i looked at lausd and l.a. county and my jr/sr high school was not listed in either….

  15. Rita Boggs says:

    I don’t see any schools listed in Carson, not even Carson High School. Don”t see any for Torrance either. Rita

  16. Jessica says:

    Is there a spreadsheet available for Pasadena schools…?

  17. Maureen says:

    Not useless…but, in the case of the LAUSD, misleading. ONLY “green” school were listed. And not all buildings for a given school were listed. For example, Monroe HS has 10 or 11 separate buildings, but only one is on the list. Many schools aren’t there at all–for example, Van Nuys MS, Van Nuys HS, Sylmar HS, Welby Way Elementary, to name just a handful. Does this mean that the LAUSD officials did not provide information about the red, orange, or blue schools, or were they left off the list by the individual at the station who compiled the chart? What about charter schools? They are public schools, too? What about private and parochial schools? Are they required to meet the same earthquake safety standards? The on-air report, and the chart, provide insufficient information.

  18. Alan says:

    Next to LAUSD the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the second largest school system in the state. Can you update your list to include these school and other private schools?

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