Florian/FlickrNew proposed rules would allow thousands of schools to access seismic repair money.
State officials moved a step closer yesterday to allowing more California schools access to a limited pot of money set aside for urgent seismic repairs.
A three-member committee of the State Allocation Board, which controls funding for school repairs and construction, is recommending that virtually all occupied buildings with the potential for catastrophic collapse should be eligible for a slice of the $200 million bond fund.
The committee's decision comes on the heels of a California Watch investigation that found that state officials had severely limited the eligibility rules on the money, to prevent a rush on funding. To date, only two schools have received money for repairs, although eight have qualified.
Using a complicated formula, schools currently are required to prove their buildings are situated in areas that would experience an unusually high ground-shaking force during an earthquake. The rules effectively shut out most of the state from eligibility.
If the new rules are approved, a structural engineer and the state architect's office would have to deem the project unsafe. While the office would consider factors such as ground shaking, it would not be limited to a specific criteria. The State Allocation Board would then approve funding; details on which schools would get priority for the limited funds have yet to be worked out.
While some school districts would benefit from the expanded criteria, thousands of buildings could still be vulnerable. The seismic mitigation fund has less than $200 million available and the state estimated it would cost $4.7 billion to retrofit all the school buildings suspected of being seismically unsafe.
Under the new plan, schools would still need to be one of the 14 building types considered most vulnerable. Those include unreinforced masonry and certain precast "tilt-up" structures - buildings with walls that are made at a manufacturing facility, transported to the job site and "tilted" from a horizontal to vertical position.
The committee also voted 2-1 to allow school districts to use some of the money for interim buildings for students while construction is under way. The committee will bring their recommendations to the next meeting of the full board May 25.
Staff at the Division of the State Architect, the Office of Public School Construction and the Seismic Safety Commission, presented two proposals to the committee for expanding access to funding, but Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Danville, brought a motion that overrode both.
Scott Harvey, chair of the committee and chief deputy director* of the Department of General Services, opposed the motion. Citing concerns raised by the Department of Finance, Harvey said he would prefer to see the funds go toward repairing school sites. He said that under such a broad motion, the fund might not go to the most vulnerable schools.
Kathleen Moore, head of the Department of Education's facilities planning division, and Buchanan both stressed that there should be a high threshold set for any school district requesting money for interim buildings.
But Buchanan argued that, "If you're a superintendent, principal or parent, do you care if your building falls into one specific type or not if an engineer says it's not safe for your child to be there?"
*This was changed from acting chief of the Department of General Services to chief deputy director of the Department of General Services. Governor Brown appointed Fred Klass director of DGS earlier this month.