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Several CSU buildings on quake watch list

March 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The three brick buildings along West Campus Drive look like any other structures at California State University Long Beach.But very few of the students know that there might be a hidden danger at Liberal Arts buildings 2, 3 and 4. A new report says in an earthquake the three buildings could collapse.

"Students and faculty and staff who are using these buildings, and there are tens of thousands of people who use these buildings, are essentially taking a risk when they walk in through the door," said Erica Perez of California Watch.

And it's more of the same across California universities. The report by California Watch, a project of the center for investigative reporting, found nearly 180 public university buildings across the state that are too dangerous to occupy during an earthquake. The buildings in Long Beach have been on the danger list since 1994.

"When the earthquake happens, there are going to be death traps," said Dr. Lucy Jones from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Jones said these buildings built in the 50s and 60s are reinforced concrete.

During the Northridge earthquake a number of these types buildings collapsed or were severely damaged at California State University Northridge. While that type of construction is no longer allowed, many existing buildings are still being used.

"We know these types of buildings will collapse. They are very dangerous," said Jones. "They are not allowed to be built because we know they are so dangerous but we have not allowed them to disappear."

There are a number of dangerous buildings on the list including at the Geffen School of Medicine West and the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. The most dangerous school according to the report is UC Berkley which sits right on the active Hayward fault.

Officials have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to retrofit a number of buildings.

"One of the difficulties we have is that all the money comes from the state of California and that is a challenge these days," said University of California spokesperson Edward Denton.

CSU issued a statement saying it is working on several buildings.

"We have added seismic projects to campus plans, along with funding studies to specifically assess the need and cost for seismic strengthening as part of a renovation project. Our protocol allows for the CSU Building Official and our chair of the Seismic Review board to close any building they feel is unsafe," the statement said.

The report says there are strict rules that indicate where the money can go. For example, money that is earmarked for construction cannot be used for earthquake retrofitting. So buildings like the ones at Cal State Long Beach cannot be fixed even though they are being occupied.

"The state funding is not available, so in some cases the new buildings that are being built on campus are funded with donor money or non-state funding that they couldn't use they say to do the seismic fixes," said Perez.

Cal Watch hopes that the investigation will lead to the community putting pressure on the schools to make seismic safety a higher priority. In the meantime students will continue to use the buildings even though they could be at risk.