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Why some school districts were not affected by the 2020 earthquake, while others needed to pay insurance worth $ 37 million

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Salt Lake City – If there is a positive side to a 5.7-magnitude earthquake that shook the Wasatch façade on March 18, 2020, that means personal learning has been suspended in schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving buildings empty so that no injuries occurred.

But the earthquake had major financial implications, especially when the old schools were not modified to survive a major earthquake.

The earthquake caused massive damage to West Lake STEM Junior High in West Valley City, which was later considered a “total loss”, according to the March 2021 Unsubsidized Freemasonry Reduction Strategy Report. The Granite Board of Education recently approved a $ 37.4 million insurance settlement to repair the school .

Two other schools in the Granite District were also affected – Granite Park Junior High and Cyprus High School. In Davis School District, Clearfield High School and Davis Jr had damage to their expansion joints and the latter had floor damage.

Schools in school districts in Jordan, Weber, and Tuyel also received minor and mostly cosmetic damage.

However, at places like Salt Lake City School of Education, which has been modifying schools for years, no damage has been reported.

The rift zone represents a “catastrophic” threat.

Earthquake risk looms large along the Salt Lake Valley, where the Wasatch Fault poses one of the most catastrophic natural threat scenarios in the United States. The Wasatch interface has a 43% chance of an earthquake of magnitude 6.75 or greater in the next 50 years, and experts predict that such an event will be among the most deadly and costly disasters in US history, “according to the report.

The proximity of the fault to a densely populated urban corridor is a major risk factor.

“This risk increases because of the number of people who live, learn, work, worship, or shop in URM (Unsupported Building) buildings and may not be aware of the potential risk. In addition, the number of people who live in URM buildings is often disproportionate in the population. The dispossessed and the marginalized, “the report states.

Unreinforced masonry buildings usually have brick walls with few or no steel reinforcing bars. The report states that during earthquakes, unreinforced building buildings that have not been updated internally and externally often collapse, “collapsing over people, vehicles, sidewalks, or other buildings in and around them.”

An unsupported Wasatch Front strategy study of Freemasonry reduction strategy also indicates that select school districts in Utah have modified or replaced school buildings that have had seismic defects for more than two decades.

“While much has been done, there is a disparity between school districts with large financial resources and those unable to overcome major obstacles in dealing with buildings with seismic defects, including the lack of viable financing mechanisms,” the report states.

The report notes that the state of Utah requires children to go to school, “hence, the state must be seen as a partner in ensuring that all schools are safe.”

According to the report, to create a risk reduction program for schools, the following goals must be achieved:

Statewide inventory validation and completion of unsupported school buildings and identification of individual areas to review inventory and discuss mitigation options. Assess construction risks and prioritize retrofits or mitigation strategies. Within a maximum time period of 12 years. Prioritize federal and state funding to school districts unable to develop local financing options. Who pays to be prepared?

Generally, school districts cover the costs of replacing or modifying the schools themselves, although some have received limited federal grants to perform the work.

Beginning in the 1990s, the school district in Salt Lake City made an all-out effort to remedy and rebuild weak schools by spending more than $ 200 million in bonds approved by voters. The initiative expanded to reach $ 401 million over the next two decades, according to the report.

The investment appears to have been prudent. There were no reports of damage to Salt Lake Schools following the Magna earthquake.

The last two rebuilding of the school was completed in 2019. The aging administration building in the area is the last facility to be treated. The school board has discussed plans for the structure on several occasions, but the matter was pushed back as the district addressed the impacts of COVID-19, Salt Lake City School District spokeswoman Yandari Zavala Chatwin said.

According to the report, the Salt Lake bond issuance passed with high voter approval “because the city and parents of school-age children witnessed the effects of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and wanted their schools to be safe.”

The 6.9-magnitude earthquake in the San Francisco area killed 63 people, injured 3,757, and nearly $ 6 billion in damage, according to National Geographic.

Murray City School District completed life safety retrofits in all of its school buildings prior to the March 2020 earthquake. The effort began a decade ago using a combination of federal grants and interconnections.

The Magna earthquake destroyed only one Murray school, a foot-long, non-structural fault at Horizon Elementary School.

According to John Masick, a licensed structural engineer who has worked as a project manager for retrofits in the Murray area, there is a large cost-benefit ratio for earthquake mitigation.

“Retrofitting before an earthquake is often more cost-effective than repairing or replacing buildings after an earthquake damages them,” said Masik. “Moreover, more importantly, seismic retrofitting helps protect the lives of students and faculty in the facilities. “. Federal Emergency Management Agency press release.

Choose granite to replace rather than repair

The Granite School Board decided that instead of repairing West Lake STEM Junior High, it would be rebuilt with $ 37 million in insurance and the Contingency Bond Authority that would cover remaining construction costs, estimated at $ 10 million to $ 15 million, said Communications Director Ben Horsley.

Since the start of this school year, Granite’s Westlake STEM Junior High School has operated out of the former Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville. The primary school was vacant because the school board voted to close it in late 2019.

This academic year, about 900 students were transferred to the school, which is about 5 miles from their campus. Modular classrooms have been placed on the primary school campus and the district has made adjustments to the building to accommodate more students and meet the programming needs of beginners.

For example, elementary schools use multipurpose rooms as dining space and gymnasiums. Since gym sessions with high schedules are for beginners throughout the day, they need dedicated space for this. Bathing and dressing facilities must be established.

Earlier this month, the School Board approved the purchase of a $ 348,120 portable lab building to be placed on the temporary West Lake campus. The district also spent at least $ 3.7 million on site improvements and the purchase of additional school buses.

Although the insurance settlement would have addressed the school’s 1960s repairs, it will not cover the costs of an equipment upgrade. Horsley said some of these improvements are necessary through advances in school technology but also changes in school operations and hygiene practices resulting from the pandemic.

Prep was to be rebuilt in five to 10 years, but the school board chose to raise the schedule while interest rates are favorable.

“Hopefully it will be done on a fast schedule. Obviously, this means everything has to go well. But we hope students will be able to be in this building in the fall of 2023. If it lasts a few more months, that’s fine, But that is our goal and we want to have a big, bold goal and try to achieve it by then, “Horsley said.

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