Highland Park's Schools Fall Short of Earthquake Safety Standards

State records indicate that structural upgrades are needed at numerous Highland Park schools to prepare them for an earthquake.

Highland Park is home to some of Los Angeles’ oldest schools and many of them are unlikely to withstand the force of a major earthquake, state records indicate.

However, the Los Angeles Unified School District told Patch that they've taken the necessary steps to prepare the neighorhood's schools for a major seismic event.

A 19-month California Watch investigation, which was released Thursday, uncovered holes in the state's enforcement of seismic safety regulations for public schools.

California began regulating school architecture for seismic safety in 1933 through the Field Act, 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, state architects have been lax on enforcement, California Watch reported. 

A separate inventory completed in 2002 found 7,500 seismically risky school buildings in the state. This list was compiled as a result of the passage the AB 300 bill in 1999, which required the Department of State Architects to determine which schools needed to safety upgrades in order to ensure they could withstand an earthquake.

Nine years later, records indicate that recommended structural improvements at many of those schools classified as unlikely to withstand a major earthquake have yet to be made, and California Watch reports that only two schools have been able to access a $200 million fund for upgrades.

Schools in Highland Park featuring buildings classified as unsafe include , , , , , , and .

The unsafe schools fall into two distinct categories.

First, there are those listed under the State of California’s AB 300 Survey and Report. These buildings, all constructed prior the state’s building code being put into place in 1978, fail to live up to modern safety standards.

The second category of unsafe schools includes those that lack California Field Act certification, which was enacted in 1933 to ensure that building designs be based on high-level building standards adopted by the state.
At Luther Burbank Middle School--which, according to California Watch, is located inside an earthquake fault zone--the home economics room is listed on the AB 300 as unlikely to perform well in an earthquake.

Arturo Valdez, the school’s recently appointed principal, said LAUSD has not made him aware of the structural deficiencies in the building.

Valdez also pointed out that the school was in the midst of a major construction project and that three of its buildings were slated for demolition.

“I’m not sure if the home economics building is one that will be going down,” he said.

Neil Gamble, director of maintenance and operation for LAUSD, said that the buildings at Burbank that sat on fault lines had been demolished as part of the recent construction project at the school.

Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch visited Burbank on Wednesday and confirmed that the school's gymnasium had been demolished. A Burbank administrator, who declined to be named, said that the auditorium was also slated for demolition.

Gamble said that there were no immediate plans by LAUSD to make upgrades to the home economics building, which currently serves as both an office and a cafeteria. However, Gamble told Patch that the building had been structurally retrofitted in 1965 and again in 1986.

Because of incomplete record keeping by the state and local school districts, confusion persists about whether some of the issues at buildings identified in 2002 have since been resolved, even though they remain listed as potentially problematic.

Administrative buildings at Aldama, Aragon Avenue, Garvanza and Yorkdale Elementary Schools are all classified as unlikely to withstand a major earthquake. The lunchroom at Aragon Avenue Elementary, the boys and girls gymnasium and an auditorium building at Benjamin Franklin High School and an auditorium building at Buchanan Street Elementary are also on the list.

Gamble said that Yorkdale, which is also located in an earthquake fault zone, had undergone retrofitting in 1986.

"It's a concrete structure, which is actually the most stable of structures. It's in [a] fault zone, which is just a trigger that means you have to look at it a little bit differently when you're doing the seismic design of it whenever doing major new reconstruction or major modernization and things like that. To me, it needs to be looked at again. It is currently Priority 2B for us," Gamble said.

Eric Lamoureux of the Department of State Architects told Patch that the inventory of AB 300 schools compiled in 2002 was based on a review of construction documents that looked into so-called lethal force resisting systems in school buildings.

He conceded that the reports were not definitive, as site visits were not conducted during the review process.

“There was the potential for error in the data that was put together because there was not a requirement that we go out and look at each and every building," Lamoureux said.

Projects lacking Field Act certification in Highland Park’s school buildings include the classroom and elevator construction project at , which was completed in 2008; a 2007 bathroom upgrade project at San Pascual Avenue Elementary; and a two-story classroom building that was constructed over the lunchroom and kitchen at Aragon Avenue Elementary School in 2009.

To access an interactive map showing school seismic safety issues in Highland Park and Mount Washington, click here.

Continue checking Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch, as we will be further investigating the structural integrity of schools in the neighborhoods.

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. Read more about with California Watch.

John Munoz April 09, 2011 at 02:11 AM
What kind of report is this. My child attends one of the schools mentiond. Has any one reported these findings to The school board reprasentatives? Yolie Flores Board Member Board District 5 yolie.flores@lausd.net 213-241-6383 Fax: 213-241-8467 Nancy Gonzalez Administrative Assistant nancy.x.gonzalez@lausd.net 213-241-6383 Rebecca (Becki) Nadybal Chief of Staff becki.nadybal@lausd.net 213-241-6383 Eduardo Cisneros Field Director eduardo.cisneros@lausd.net 213-241-6383 Ron Palacios Director of Community Partnerships ronald.palacios@lausd.net 213-241-6383 Nadia Diaz Director of Policy nadia.diaz@lausd.net 213-241-6383 Marisela Cervantes Senior Field Advisor marisela.x.cervantes@lausd.net 213-241-6383 I know thes individuals are the people that say they look after are best interest, but we have to ask them about this! I will be sending a email!
David Fonseca April 09, 2011 at 04:11 AM
John, this is by no means the last story on this issue. We'll be following up with school officials as part of future stories.
Mark Legassie April 10, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Thanks for exposing these problems with our schools. I am constantly teaching people about the two faults in Highland Park, including the York Blvd fault which runs directly north of Burbank school, crosses Figueroa and follows Meridian and York westward, This is fascinating information about our schools that adds much to our knowledge about the severity of damage that an earthquake might cause -- all due to the lack of needed building upgrades. What does this mean our community? We obviously need to update our EP plans to focus more attention on students and staff that might be hurt or trapped after an earthquake. I'm adding this to the next Public Safety Cmte agenda of our Neighborhood Council. Great stuff! Mark Legassie


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