Art Building rests on shifting foundation
Foundation needs repair
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013 19:10
While other campus buildings that are 40-60 years old are receiving seismic retrofits, the 42-year-old Art Building will not receive a retrofit, as it awaits its eventual fate: being demolished or converted into storage.
Classes have continuously been held in the facility since it first opened in 1971, despite evidence, which first appeared more than 13 years ago, that the building’s structural foundation has shifted.
The Hayward Fault, an active fault that is considered by geologists to be overdue for a major earthquake, runs directly through Contra Costa College’s campus. In spite of this threat to campus structures, the Art Building will not receive necessary seismic retrofits because its foundation has moved since it was set 42 years ago.
After more than a decade’s worth of decision-making, the seismic studies conducted on the building that analyzed the soil for potentially active fault traces and the plan for what to do with the facility have turned up inconclusive.
However, a 2010 study, done by Thornton Tomasetti Building Solutions, assigned the Art Building a seismic risk level of IV out of VII, meaning occupant safety inside the building is “questionable” in the event of an earthquake.
Deciding what will eventually happen to the building will require further deliberation by engineering and seismology groups, Contra Costa College’s administration and the district Governing Board.
“The issue with the Art Building is related to its foundation and foundation work is very expensive based on its complexity,” district Chief Facilities Planner Ray Pyle said.
Pyle explained that retrofitting the building would be ineffective without first making the costly repairs to the foundation and that the finalized plan for the building is still “up in the air.”
Senior Dean of Instruction Donna Floyd said that retrofitting the Art Building is “cost-prohibitive” and that all decisions must be made with the college’s budget in mind.
Buildings and Grounds Manager Bruce King said, “For now, we can only do what our budget allows.”
Former art department chairperson and professor Richard Akers, who has been on medical leave using banked classload for the past two years, was very active and dedicated while chairperson, leading the initiative to move the department out of the Art Building in favor of a safer location in 2006.
Dr. Akers based his position on the various cracks snaking around the walls and floors of the Art Building, the warping of door and window frames and the visible southward shift of the floor from the wall in rooms A-6A and A-6B. The sliding partition that once opened to unite the two rooms is now a permanent wall, as its track jammed years ago from the building’s movement.
Since then, people’s opinions have changed on the status of the Art Building, Akers said. It is still in use seven years later.
“It’s amazing the way opinions change,” he said. “A verdict from one study can change when a second opinion is given by a different study. But it all comes down to the call of the engineers, whether they say it is safe or unsafe.”
According to the Tomasetti study, the Art Building’s seismic risk level of IV represents a “moderate risk to life.”
The seismic risk scale is based around a “design earthquake,” which details the effects of a major earthquake with the closest nearby fault as its epicenter and an even stronger magnitude than that of the Loma Prieta, Justin Fahey, senior associate for Thornton Tomasetti, said.
If the building were a hospital, police station or hazardous materials facility, a seismic risk level IV would deem it “unacceptable for occupancy.” But, since CCC falls into the category of public schools, it is only ranked as questionable.
Also, the presence of approximate potentially active fault lines directly north and south of the Art Building, as detailed by the CCC Amendment to Master Plan Seismic Study conducted by Kleinfelder seismic solutions group in 2012, presents further concern.
While these red zones on the perimeter of the building are considered building exclusion and setback zones, the area directly underneath the facility requires “further investigation.”
As far as William McCormick, principal engineering geologist for Kleinfelder, knows, no geological study exists of the land beneath the Art Building.
He said there is a “pretty good” likelihood that the approximate fault lines north and south of the facility are connected, meaning there are potentially active faults directly beneath the building.
“They may be secondary traces of the Hayward Fault,” McCormick said. “There was not enough soil in that area to determine if the faults are active or not. We have to be conservative when it comes to schools; the key here is that these traces are not necessarily active. We just cannot prove that they are not active.”
The visible cracks and warping of frameworks around doors and windows in the Art Building and signs of slight landslides around the premises were the evidences Akers used to support his claim years ago.