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The Nation

March 22, 2011

Japan quake serves as reminder for Californians


OAKLAND, Calif. —

Oakland received a nearly $30,000 structural engineering assessment grant from the state to help identify unsafe buildings and estimate costs of repair. The assessment identified five buildings in the Oakland Unified School District that needed seismic upgrades, with an estimated total cost of $3.6 million to $7.2 million.

The free assessment did little to help: Oakland has no plans to do retrofits anytime soon, said Troy Flint, a spokesman for the district.

"We barely have the resources to even do our core mission of instruction, let alone take on one of these major facilities projects," Flint said. "It's really symptomatic of the ... denigration of California's public education system and its financial status as a whole."

Another evaluation grant recipient was the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District in Monterey County, where a $17,000 assessment found that seven 1960s-era concrete buildings at San Juan Middle School, located near the San Andreas fault, are susceptible to collapse.

Last summer, a structural engineer found the school needed $900,000 to $1.8 million in work. The district has been told it qualified for a hardship grant to cover the entire cost, but is still waiting to hear from state officials with details.

After years of seismic work in California, much remains to be done just to identify the thousands of dangerous buildings where thousands of residents attend school and live.

"The tough thing about these concrete buildings is that it's not obvious which are dangerous," said Comartin. "If I analyze a building built before (code changes), I have to look at drawings and do calculations before I know whether it's safe or not."

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