The Salt Lake Board of Education should not extend its 20-year timetable on making its schools safer in earthquakes because the potential loss of life and injuries is too great, a member of the board's seismic task force says.
Attorney Jonathan Dibble, a task force member who has prodded the board on its seismic review, urged the board Tuesday night to hold fast to the proposed 20-year schedule for retrofitting or replacing the district's 35 schools.The safety risks are too great for any delay, he said. Dibble told the board that his committee's estimates of thousands killed and injured in the Salt Lake schools if a major quake hit were conservative. "They (statistics) were toned down to prevent alarm," Dibble said.
Shortly after Dibble and several others urged the board to continue to move quickly on seismic safety the board voted to ratify preliminary action taken at its Dec. 18 meeting.
The seven-member board, which included three new members, unanimously agreed with a decision by the old school board that taxpayers should be asked if they want to spend an estimated $100 million on a project to fix the city's schools.
New members Mary Jo Rasmussen, Ann Clawson and Diane Barlow, along with Ila Rose Fife, an appointed board member who was elected on her own in November, backed veteran members Stephen Boyden, Keith Stepan and Alan Mecham in supporting the quake safety plan.
Dibble and his group also urged the board to avoid rushing into holding a May referendum on seismic retrofitting. That date leaves too little time to educate the public about the need for school retrofitting and reconstruction, Dibble said.
"Don't just throw a clay pigeon into the air for someone to shoot down," Dibble said.
He suggested a November election. But Business Administrator W. Gary Harmer said any vote on a proposed tax increase for next year's budget must be held by early August. The $100 million proposal would boost the annual taxes by $60 on a $100,000 home for the next 19 to 25 years.
Dibble's group also asked the board to prioritize school remodeling according to the projected deaths and injuries, thus moving retrofitting for some elementary schools ahead of intermediate schools. Currently, the quake plan calls for the high schools to be fixed first, followed by the intermediate schools and then the elementary schools.
Board members asked staff to consider the group's suggestions and report back with more details.
In a related matter, the board received its professional evaluation of Uintah Elementary School. Superintendent John W. Bennion said Uintah is "inadequate on virtually every count."
Parents complained several months ago about fire and other safety issues at the 75-year-old school. The evaluation, prepared by Gillies Stransky Brems Smith, confirms those and other hazards. The report also calls the school overcrowded and rates its seismic safety as "very poor."
The report says it would cost about $800,000 more to remodel the school than to build a new one.
The superintendent said parents and school personnel will be given ample time to comment on the report before a decision is made.