, Salem, MA

The Nation

March 22, 2011

Japan quake serves as reminder for Californians


OAKLAND, Calif. —

So in 2006, voters approved the program, meant to provide a pool of cash to help schools cope with the costs.

But the program has been plagued by myriad problems: Much of the data needed to identify the most dangerous buildings relied on old blueprints. The result was an inaccurate list of buildings containing information on structures either no longer in use or ones that had been demolished.

In addition, financially struggling districts that actually have unsafe buildings on the list were unwilling to take on the costs and uncertainty of a long retrofit project, even with state help.

"Funding ... to address the most serious public school seismic issues has been languishing with only three projects approved to date," the state's Office of Public School Construction wrote in a draft report obtained by The Associated Press.

The report was delivered to the California Seismic Safety Commission on March 10, the day before a 9.0-magnitude quake struck Japan.

To improve the program, officials have provided grants to districts that have buildings identified as the most dangerous in the state.

"One of the biggest challenges we were hearing from districts was the seismic evaluation that is required before they could come forward for the funding," said Eric Lamoreaux, the acting deputy director of the state Department of General Services. "So the Office of Public School Construction worked to get this grant to go out and get engineers at school districts to get evaluations."

Of the 16 school districts in California with at-risk buildings, nine chose to participate in the evaluation process.

On Friday afternoon at Oakland Technical High School, dozens of music and theater students attended class in the auditorium, an aged concrete structure on the state's list. The cavernous concrete building, which is also used for after-school programs and neighborhood meetings, is located near the Hayward fault.

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