Parents concerned about a newly discovered fault running underneath Washington Elementary School want solutions for their children's safety now - and they want a say in what those solutions are.
Pauline Richards, spokeswoman for parents and teachers of the elementary school, 420 N. 200 West, told the Salt Lake Board of Education Tuesday night that if the board's commitment to shared governance is real, parents will be involved in any short- and long-term solutions, and those solutions should be looked at immediately."These are our children. We have a right and responsibility to see that they have a safe educational environment every day," Richards told the board.
She added, "I send three children to that school every day. As more and more information becomes available, it is more and more difficult to do that in good conscience."
Richards said she wanted some action by the board's next meeting Dec. 4. Superintendent John W. Bennion said action that quickly is doubtful, but he recommended that district officials and parents get together soon to begin exploring options.
The parents' concerns began two weeks ago when preliminary indications by a geotechnical engineering firm revealed that a fault might run underneath the school.
Bill Gordon, vice president of Sergent, Hauskins & Beckwith, confirmed that assessment Tuesday night. He told the board members that an active fault, which he defined as having movement in the last 10,000 to 14,000 years, runs in a northeast direction under the southeast portion of the 14-year-old school.
Originally, soil borings did not indicate a fault, but when a trench was dug along the south side of 400 North, soil deformation was found at a depth of 8 feet. That is evidence of a fault, he said.
He said that his firm will use information from the trench and soil borings to produce a computer-generated, three-dimensional picture of the ground underneath the school. That will help pinpoint the fault's exact location.
The consultant said there has been, however, no indication of faults underneath the school's annex, which houses a districtwide alternative program, the Open Classroom, or along the north portion of the site, where the old Washington School stood before it was demolished to make room for the new school.
Originally, a fault was projected on a geological map to run on the west of 200 West away from the school site. That fault may be there, in addition to the one running under the school, Gordon said.
When board members questioned Gordon about the building's reliability in an earthquake, he said to rupture the fault it would take an earthquake of 6.5 or greater with an epicenter at the site or a 7.0 or greater temblor at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The probability of that happening is remote, he said, adding it is much more likely that the building would be damaged by ground shaking from a distant quake.
Steve Harman, district buildings and grounds director, reassured the board and parents that the Washington School is structurally sound, with only a few adjustments needed to make it more earthquake resistant. "It's probably one of our better buildings," he said.
The reassurance by the experts did not do much to calm the parents' fears. Following Gordon's presentation, they cornered him in the hall, asking repeated and more specific questions.
Several parents said their neighbors have talked of moving or putting their children on waiting lists at other schools to get them out of Washington.