The Salt Lake School District staff thinks East High School should be demolished because it's too costly to retrofit for earthquake safety.

The staff backed consultants Tuesday night in recommending to the Salt Lake Board of Education that the school's 78-year-old main building be torn down and replaced.The board members, who have not said if they agree, have set no date to take action on the recommendation.

On Sept. 18, consultants Valentiner-Richardson Design Partnership told the board that it would be more cost-effective to replace East than remodel it. The firm assessed the life expectancies of city's three high schools in light of the district's effort to make its schools better able to withstand a major earthquake.

But the board requested more cost data from the consultants to see if it would be possible to make a remodeled East comparable to retrofitted Highland and West.

Steve Harman, district director of buildings and grounds, said the answer is no.

Harman, along with consultant Steve Dibble, gave new figures that showed it would cost $10.9 million to retrofit East for the first five years, compared to $18.9 million to replace it.

Even a retrofitted East, however, would have only 75 percent of the seismic integrity of a new building.

That means "if you spend a lot of money to renovate East and it goes through an earthquake, it won't kill a bunch of kids. It will stay structurally intact, but we'll have to tear it down afterward," Harman said.

The cost to bring East up to 100 percent seismic integrity is prohibitive - probably $200 per square foot, compared to $28 per square foot at West and $11 per square foot at Highland, Harman said.

For that reason, Harman said, the staff thinks the East main classroom wing should be torn down and replaced, probably on the same site.

Harman said the staff will look in depth at East replacement issues such as where to locate the school, a construction timetable and where to house the students while construction is under way. The report will be brought back to the board, he said.

The staff also went along with consultants on renovating Highland for $7.7 million over the first five years and renovating West by replacing the old, separate technology building and boiler plant building, adding a new auditorium and remodeling the existing 69-year-old classroom structure. The five-year cost for West would be $12.1 million.

That brings the total remodeling and construction package to $35.8 million.

But business administration Gary Harmer reminded the board that members have to worry not just what they'll do but how they'll pay for it.

Issuing a bond would require a city property tax increase of more than 3 mills because the district doesn't have any money available to service debt, he said. When the district retired its debt service earlier this year, it pumped that money into programs.

So, a hefty construction package would require either property tax increases for city taxpayers or school program cuts, he said.

"Maybe I'm pessimistic, but I wouldn't give a good-size bond issue very good odds of passing," Harmer said.

But board member Susan Keene said that maybe because it's "a beautiful idea" - making our schools safe - that "people will be willing to pay more taxes."



Costly fixes

Cost per square foot to make Salt Lake high schools earthquake-proof:

East $200

West 28

Highland 11