More problematic construction projects added to interactive database

California Watch's investigation of seismic safety in public schools featured an interactive database identifying campuses that are home to hundreds of buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards. Our interactive now features more potentially risky construction projects at campuses across the state.

Our On Shaky Ground series, led by reporter Corey G. Johnson, found state regulators had routinely failed to enforce the Field Act, California's earthquake safety law for public schools. That failure allowed children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction. At least 20,000 projects – from minor fire alarm upgrades to major construction of new classrooms – were completed without receiving a final Field Act certification.

This week, we added more than 5,500 projects to our interactive that were denied Field Act certification for failure to file important documentation verifying the safety of the construction. It wasn't clear what the safety status was for those projects.

For instance, in an internal memo obtained by Johnson, a high-ranking official at the state architect's office expressed alarm that "hundreds of projects" were changed from possible structural defects to missing paperwork "for no apparent or recorded reason."

Johnson also found evidence that massive windows at Southeast Middle School in South Gate, near Los Angeles, were installed incorrectly and could potentially fall on students in an earthquake. While regulators maintain that this is a documentation or paperwork issue, Johnson discovered that both the main architect and inspector on the construction job insisted that massive windows in the school’s central classroom building were incorrectly installed.

When we first launched our interactive, it included risky buildings and construction projects denied Field Act certification for potential safety hazards. That means schools like Gilroy High didn't display any record of problematic construction projects. Now, since we've included these additional projects, the Gilroy page displays 16 projects denied Field Act certification for lack of documentation attesting to the safety of the construction.

There are seven public schools with 10 or more of these projects tied to them. Gilroy High has the most, at 16, and five of the seven are in Santa Clara County.

 

School County District Projects
Gilroy High Santa Clara Gilroy Unified 16
Whittier High Los Angeles Whittier Union High 13
Benicia High Solano Benicia Unified 11
Cupertino High Santa Clara Fremont Union High 11
Homestead High Santa Clara Fremont Union High 10
Lynbrook High Santa Clara Fremont Union High 10
Monta Vista High Santa Clara Fremont Union High 10

 

Further investigation will be needed to confirm how severe the potential problems are. Because many of these projects are decades old, some problems may have been fixed.

Thanks to the ongoing hard work of reporter Kendall Taggart and a huge assist by researcher Johnathon Barhydt, we were able to tie these projects to schools in our interactive using information obtained through public records requests and from the state's online Tracker. The Tracker system provides notes describing the more recent projects and includes information not released to California Watch, such as the address of a project.

We hope it's helpful to have the information more accessible than it is in the raw spreadsheets and look forward to feedback from readers about the projects.

 

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