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Gilroy Schools Fare Well In Statewide Earthquake Investigation

The new database, a project from California Watch, combines several sets of data.

Two of the 15 schools in the Gilroy Unified School District appear in a new database of schools with seismic issues compiled by the investigative news group California Watch. But a further search of documents from the Division of the State Architect’s office shows that, while paperwork may be lagging, all but one of the buildings at those schools received good marks.

A structure on the campus of Brownell Middle School was considered seismically at-risk after a wave of inspections nine years ago, but Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Rebecca Wright said the building may not be in use right now, though she couldn’t double-check because of a staff and student holiday this week.

“It is important to us to ensure that our buildings are safe for all staff and students,” said Wright.

The inspections came as part of AB 300, a 1999 law requiring the state’s Department of General Services to conduct a “collapse risk” inventory of the state’s kindergarten-through-12th-grade school buildings.

A portable day care facility built at in 2001 also appears in the database, but records from the state architect’s website show that the building received full seismic certification in October 2010.

The new searchable database, developed as part of the investigation, compiles several sets of data describing potential earthquake hazards in public schools across the state. However, red flags could mean anything from a true violation of a safety code to missing a signature from an architect, contractor or engineer, said DSA spokeswoman Gretchen Zeagler.

Two buildings at Brownell, both built in 1958 before modern earthquake standards, survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake without damage but made it onto the AB-300 list, Wright said. Inspectors determined that one would likely fare well in an earthquake, but the second needed a detailed evaluation, according to the state architect’s website.

According to a report by California Watch, the General Services department claims public school buildings in California are the safest in the nation, but it ultimately concluded that 7,537 buildings, approximately 14 percent of the total square footage in the state’s public K-12 schools, were not expected to withstand future earthquakes and urgently needed further structural evaluation to gauge needed repairs.

California began regulating school architecture for seismic safety in 1933 with the Field Act, but data taken from the state architect 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 AB-300 list completed nine years ago found 7,500 seismically risky school buildings in the state. Yet, California Watch reports that only two schools have been able to access a $200 million fund for upgrades. 

Interactive Timeline—See how California Watch's 19-month investigation developed in an interactive timeline, complete with video, documents and more.

Historical Map of California earthquakes—See an interactive map of the history of California earthquakes since 1861, including their magnitudes, locations and damage caused.

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 Patch's collaboration with California Watch. 

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