Schools in the might be some of the safest places for your kids to be during an earthquake, says the district's facilities director Rich Lowell.
Lowell talked with Patch as we looked at what a 19-month California Watch investigation, which was released Thursday, can tell us about seismic safety in the local school district.
The project uncovered holes in the state's enforcement of seismic safety regulations for public schools.
The project lists 10 San Ramon Valley Unified School District Schools that appear as potentially seismically unsafe or near fault lines (See an interactive map of Danville, Alamo and San Ramon schools).
Six of those schools in the district are listed on the interactive map as potentially unsafe seismically—, , , , and . However all of those schools either refer to old schools or buildings that have been torn down and rebuilt, or schools that were recently reviewed, according to Lowell.
The California Watch report goes a step further to overlay this data with other data, such as proximity to a major fault or the likelihood of "liquefaction." That is, normally solid ground acts like a fluid when shaken by an earthquake. The result is landslides and collapses that leave holes in the ground.
Six schools, , , , , Greenbrook and Charlotte Wood, are all near U.S. Geological Survey fault lines.
None of the district schools are near liquefaction or landslide zones.
Lowell says all of the schools in the district are seismically sound.
"Schools and hospitals are the safest buildings to be in, in an earthquake, because the codes are so much more stringent than regular commercial building codes," said Lowell."Most of the schools in this district were built within the last 20 years or so, so they are built to very stringent rules."
The interactive map on the project originates from a 1978 list of the types of structures used at schools and whether they are suitable for an earthquake zone. A woodframe building was considered OK; unreinforced masonry was not, according to the 1978 list.
The 1978 list resurfaced in 2002 as part of a state report called Seismic Safety Inventory of California Schools. That report came about in response to Assembly Bill 300, authored by Ellen Corbett and signed by the governor in 1999.
The bill required the state Department of General Services to conduct a seismic safety inventory of California’s K-12 school buildings. The 2002 report is sometimes called the AB300 report, which is now the basis for the California Watch report.
The "AB300 report" concluded that more than 7,000 of 9,959 schools – about 14 percent of the current total square footage of California public schools – require a detailed seismic evaluation.
Three San Ramon Valley Unified School District schools, Monte Vista High, Neil Armstrong Elementary and Walt Disney Elementary (which is not on the interactive map), have not had the detailed seismic evaluation required by AB3oo, according to Lowell.
Monte Vista is on the AB300 list because of its gym, Lowell says.
He said the gym was evaluated in 2008 for seismic safety by a structural engineer, and he "didn't see any potential problems." However, he said he is speaking with an engineer next week, to have the gym reviewed for AB300 standards "in an abundance of caution."
Neil Armstrong and Walt Disney are also going to be part of that review. Both are on the list because they have buildings with masonry construction and wood roofs and have not been reviewed for AB300.
Neil Armstrong, built in 1977, was modernized and had a structural review in 2003, Lowell said. Walt Disney, built in the mid-70s, had a structural review in 2002.
Note that the AB300 list is outdated and incomplete, and was intended to give state legislators a sense of the magnitude of potential problems. The legislature then asked school districts to conduct their own detailed studies.
California began regulating school architecture for seismic safety in 1933 with 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.
The report lists two schools in the district that are rated Letter 4 according to the Field Act certification — Cal High and San Ramon Valley High School.
Lowell says, "all of our buildings have gone through the DSA process of Field Act certification."
Lowell says San Ramon Valley High was listed for its old gym, replaced by a new gym that opened this year.
California High is also listed for its gym, which received a complete year-long structural upgrade that was completed in March, Lowell says. The high school was also was reviewed by the Division of State Architects and ZFA Structural Engineers and modernized in 2003.
He said recent bond measures have funded the modernization of several schools in the district.
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.