Clovis News

Valley school buildings lack safety certification

More than a dozen buildings at central San Joaquin Valley schools lack state certification for safety because of an unresolved defect, according to records obtained by the nonprofit news group California Watch.

The buildings vary from an elementary school in Clovis to a high school facility in Dinuba. The safety records, kept by the Division of the State Architect, don't specify what the problems are at each site, only that they range from violating disability standards to failing to meet earthquake codes.

Dozens of other school buildings in the Valley lack the same certification, required under California's earthquake safety laws, because of incomplete paperwork.

A lack of certification, however, does not necessarily mean a problem.

State regulators acknowledge that in many cases the safety breach is no more than a matter of poor record-keeping, such as failing to log a fix.

Local school officials, who have only begun looking at the safety records published by California Watch last week, say most buildings on the list shouldn't be there.

"I'm real confident that the school children in Fresno County are in safe schools," said Larry Powell, Fresno County superintendent of schools.

Past problems found by state regulators, in most cases, have been corrected and missing safety documents turned in, Powell said.

In Clovis Unified School District, two building projects never received safety certification, according to state records, which date to October. One was a temporary structure that is no longer in use, and the other is an elementary school that is incorrectly listed, school officials say.

"All of our DSA projects have been signed off by an on-site certified DSA inspector at the time of completion," said Don Ulrich, the district's assistant superintendent of facility services, in a prepared statement.

State safety certification of schools is required under the Field Act, which followed the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

In separate legislation in 1999, the state mandated an inventory of schools that would benefit from seismic upgrades. Several hundred central San Joaquin Valley school sites are on this list, according to California Watch.

The problems at the schools are not detailed.

Bob Merrill, Emeritus professor of geology at California State University, Fresno, says earthquakes are not an imminent danger in the Valley.

"In the central part of the Valley, far away from the Sierra and the coast ranges, we're pretty safe," he said.

Fresno County's biggest earthquake in recent history was a 6.7-magnitude temblor in Coalinga in 1983. Homes were destroyed, but schools suffered only minor damage, school officials said.