If a major earthquake occurs during school hours, there will "undoubtedly be loss of life" at three turn-of-the-century elementary schools in Provo, according to a city official.
Provo City Plans Examiner Al Carlson said Franklin, Maeser and Joaquin elementary schools lack the structural integrity to withstand a major earthquake.Provo began requiring some seismic upgrades on buildings being remodeled about six years ago, Carlson said. For example, part of Dixon Middle School was brought up to seismic code during a remodeling project.
However, buildings without remodeling projects are not required by law to be brought up to the seismic code.
Salt Lake City and Jordan school districts voluntarily contracted with a consulting engineer to determine the structural integrity of all their schools. The consultant, Larry Reaveley, was described by Salt Lake County geologist Craig Nelson as one of the foremost experts in the field.
Reaveley said he was contacted by the parent of a child at one of Provo's oldest elementary schools for an inspection of the school, but he did not do it because a principal or another school administrator must authorize an inspection.
Salt Lake City has a 20-year-plan to upgrade the schools that do not meet the seismic code, said Reaveley. The most dangerous facilities are selected to be upgraded first.
If the buildings in Provo are unreinforced, load-bearing masonry, Reaveley said, there is no reason to believe they will withstand an earthquake. Such buildings will be damaged during an earthquake as low as 5.5 on the Richter scale. "Certainly there will be damage at 6.1 or 6.2 with collapse of part of the building, to say nothing of 7 to 7.5," he said.
"It's not criminal to have kids in those buildings. What's criminal is to have kids in those buildings with no plans for correcting the problem," Reavely said.
LaNice Grosbeck, a parent of a child at Franklin Elementary School, said she wrote a letter last spring on behalf of the Franklin PTA to Jim Bergera, the former superintendent of the Provo School District, outlining concerns about Franklin.
Grosbeck said the letter asked if the building could be inspected for earthquake preparedness and said the Franklin PTA was willing to contribute to the cost of the inspection.
Grosbeck said she had no response from the school district. "If something happens, and they can say we didn't know, maybe they're not liable. I want to make sure they know. I wish they'd be more responsive to our concerns."
Kay W. Laursen, Provo's new superintendent, said preparing schools for an earthquake is a real concern. The district wants the children and school district employees "protected as much as possible."
The schools have emergency preparedness plans, Laursen said, but he knows of no definite plans to bring the schools up to seismic code. "Right now, capital funds are all earmarked."
Changes in funding of capital expenditures in Utah schools may provide needed funds. "If the new state financial study that would equalize capital funds is adopted, it might help us," said Laursen.
"We need to do the best we can with the patrons' tax dollars. We try to give the best information we can to the board and they make decisions for us," Laursen said.
Bringing a building up to seismic code can be very expensive. Deputy State Geologist Bill Lund said building to seismic code adds only one to two percent to the cost of construction. However, bringing a building up to seismic code can cost four times more than the original structure.
An old building should be looked at for cost of maintenance and energy efficiency as well as the cost of bringing it up to code in deciding whether it is more economical to replace a building than bring it up to code, Reaveley said.
"Money is always a problem," said Douglas Gardner, principal of Maeser Elementary school until last year. He is now principal of Provo's Grandview Elementary School.
"I'd like to see all our buildings up to code, but it will take millions and millions of dollars," said Gardner. "The poor Board of Education is stuck between a rock and a hard place."
Mossi W. White, a member of the school board, said, "It is an overwhelming problem. As a school board, it is a responsibility we take very seriously."
Phil Lott, who directs maintenance for the Provo School Board, has been asked to gather information about the schools and what can be done, said White. "Salt Lake City and Jordan districts have been leaders in this."
Maeser PTA President Dave Lefevre said, "It is a potentially dangerous situation. I'd love to see it (the schools brought up to code). But I understand the economic problems involved in it."
Although geologists say that earthquakes along the Wasatch Fault are a certainty, no one knows when an earthquake will occur.
Geologists have dug trenches in three locations along the Wasatch Fault segment in Utah County to study fault movement. Lund said one surprise is that the segment appears to be one piece about 70 kilometers long. The last movement is estimated at roughly 600 years ago.
The interval between slips on each segment of the Wasatch Fault is estimated to be 2,000 to 2,500 years. But a slip at any segment will result in seismic activity, or an earthquake, all along the fault. Lund said the San Francisco Earthquake caused a lot of damage in Oakland, which was 60 miles from the epicenter.
Of particular concern to local geologists is that the Wasatch Fault appears to be "locked." A locked fault is one that does not release pressure in many small earthquakes but stores up energy. When the fault slips, Lund said, the earthquake could be as high as 7 or 7.5 on the Richter scale.
"An earthquake of magnitude 5 can cause moderate damage, and one of magnitude 6 considerable damage," wrote Edward A. Keller in "Environmental Geology." "Severe damage may be expected from an earthquake with magnitude greater than 6, and an event with magnitude greater than 7 is a major earthquake capable of causing widespread damage."
The earthquakes felt along the Wasatch Fault in this century, including those that caused damage, appear to have been caused by faults other than the Wasatch Fault, Lund said.
The Provo Public Library is hosting an earthquake preparedness lecture Tuesday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m. in the library auditorium at 425 W. Center. Emergency Services Manager for Utah County Richard Castro is the featured speaker.
Registered nurse Robin Norton will display and discuss first aid kits. Several local vendors of emergency preparedness materials will have displays.