Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
The current Salt Lake County public works operations building is unsafe.

If an earthquake hits the Salt Lake Valley, the very people who are supposed to clean up the rubble could be buried beneath it.

The Salt Lake County public works operations building will buckle if the big one hits, according to an engineering report from Reaveley Engineers and Associates Inc. Public works staff mop up the mess from natural disasters, clearing streets and removing debris and rubble.

"These structures have severe seismic deficiencies," the report said. "These deficiencies pose a serious potential risk to the building occupants and operations should an earthquake occur."

The building, at 7125 S. 600 West in Midvale, is in such bad shape that county leaders readily agreed to replace it with a new $7.4 million facility in 2009.

"It's a dangerous building and needs immediate replacement," Mayor Peter Corroon said. "We don't want our offices and equipment buried in rubble."

The building has undergone several renovations and additions over the years, and five out of the six structures scored a "poor" or "very poor" seismic performance score from the engineer's report.

The original office structure, built in 1957, lacks reinforcing in the walls, making the building susceptible to tipping or buckling in the event of an earthquake. The southeast office addition's exteriors walls "appear to be two-wythe unreinforced brick, which may buckle or tip over in an earthquake."

The cinderblock walls in a two-story office addition on the west side of the complex are too slender for the height of the walls, which could cause them to easily tumble during a quake.

The list goes on and on.

"Just about any kind of earthquake out there now would shut the public works department down," said Linda Hamilton, the county's public works director.

Even a large amount of snowfall could cave in the roof of a one-story office building addition. The roof is already 600 percent over-stressed, and the framing is already sagging, according to the report.

Jeff Rowley, risk manager for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, said the condition of the roof requires "immediate action."

"Unless the roof can be immediately strengthened ... I recommend that the current occupants be relocated as soon as possible and certainly before the winter weather adds to the weight of the roof," Rowley wrote in a letter to Hamilton.

So far, no employees have been moved, but county facilities workers are "supposed to be doing something to shore that part of the roof up."

The problems extend to the women's restroom, which is inoperable most of the time because of a flattened sewer pipe, Hamilton said. And a corroded sewer drain essentially shut one bay down in the fleet department for a time, she said.

All of those problems should be fixed with the construction of a new public works building. The County Council recently approved the $7.4 million during 2008 budget deliberations.

Robert Flowers, the county's new emergency management chief, said a functioning public works building is essential in the event of a catastrophic event.

"If you have an event of any significance — after you do your life-saving measures — most of a disaster becomes a public works operation after the second or third day," Flowers said. "We're trying to get a facility that is created and designed with that in mind."

Some ideas Flowers has in mind are a new traffic operations center and an operations room "where you can keep track of resources." In essence, the new facility could serve as a backup to the county's emergency operations center at 3380 S. 900 West.

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