SF school construction projects lack earthquake safety checks

AP file photoThe Division of the State Architect could not say whether San Francisco school construction projects met the requirements of the Field Act

AP file photoThe Division of the State Architect could not say whether San Francisco school construction projects met the requirements of the Field Act

Some 54 school construction projects in The City and nearly 200 on the Peninsula are among more than 16,400 across California that lack state certification for earthquake and fire safety.

Over the past three years, about 23 percent of projects statewide have been completed but not certified by the state agency charged with ensuring the safety of school buildings, according to a scathing report published Thursday by California’s Bureau of State Audits.

In The City, these include a fire alarm upgrade at Yick Wo Elementary School, a window replacement at New Traditions Elementary and a $1.2 million building alteration at John O’Connell High School.

The report found that the Division of the State Architect could not say whether these projects met the requirements of the Field Act, a 1933 state law designed to protect students and teachers in the event of an earthquake. Yet the law allows school districts to occupy the uncertified properties, many of which have remained uncertified for years.

David Goldin, chief facilities officer for the San Francisco Unified School District, said missing certification does not mean a project is unsafe.

“At every level throughout our projects, the district takes the design, review, construction, oversight, testing and inspection of all of our school work sites as our highest priority,” he wrote.

Denise Porterfield, deputy superintendent for the San Mateo County Office of Education, said that a lack of certification is primarily a paperwork issue.

However, the auditor’s report found that the Division of the State Architect did not provide enough oversight of projects, relying on inspectors employed by school districts rather than sending its own field agents to check on construction.

“We found examples of projects with an estimated cost of up to $2.2 million that had no evidence of a visit by the division’s field staff,” State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a letter to state leaders that accompanied the report.

Some officials said the report reflected their own frustration with the agency.

“The whole system has been lax,” said José Nuñez, vice chancellor of facilities planning and operations for the San Mateo County Community College District. “If they had enough staff, I guess it would work, but they don’t have enough staff because the state’s in a budget crisis.”

Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, which includes the state architect, said the agency was already working to address the auditor’s concerns. Lamoureux noted that Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a new state architect, Chester “Chet” Widom, just this week.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

 

On shaky ground

Uncertified projects range from minor upgrades to brand-new buildings.

– 54: Projects in San Francisco Unified School District

– 177: Projects in San Mateo County school districts

– 23: Projects in San Mateo County community colleges

– 53: Projects in City College of San Francisco

 

San Francisco Unified: Sites of uncertified projects since 2008

New Traditions Elementary School         

June Jordan School of Equity

Yick Wo Elementary School

Junipero Serra Elementary School 

Junipero Serra Annex Child Development Care

Cabrillo Administration Center

Alamo Elementary School

John O’Connell High School Of

Raoul Wallenberg High School

 

Peninsula: Districts with one or more uncertified projects since 2008

Cabrillo Unified School District                                                                        

La-Honda-Pescadero Unified                                                                            

Las Lomitas Elementary School District                                                          

Pacifica School District                                                                                      

Ravenswood City Elementary                                                                            

Redwood City Elementary School District                                                       

San Carlos Elementary School District                                                            

San Mateo County Office of Education                                                           

San Mateo Union High School District                                                             

San Mateo-Foster City School District                                                             

Sequoia Union High School District

South San Francisco Unified School District                                                  

Sources: Division of the State Architect, Bureau of State Audits

 

 

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