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Future of the Field Act

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FYI, the Ca. Seismic Safety Commission adopted the following findings and
recommendations today. It will consider noticing each school district about
the need to inventory and assess collapse-risk schools at its next mtg March

The Future of the Field Act for Public Schools (17280 & 81130 et seq
Education Code)


The Field Act was enacted on April 10, 1933, one month after the Long Beach
Earthquake in which ?70 schools were destroyed, 120 schools suffered major
damage, and 300 schools received minor damage.?(Meehan and Jephcott, 1993)

?Because schools are funded with public money, schools house the children of
the electorate, legislative statutes require children to attend schools, and
the school buildings performed so poorly in the earthquake, it was believed
that the legislators, including the Governor, would support legislation
requiring public school buildings to be constructed earthquake resistive.?
(Meehan and Jephcott 1993 quoting Willett and Durkee, 1957)

The Field Act and its regulations have been updated many times since its
inception. It continues to be one of the most effective earthquake risk
reduction measures undertaken by California. The superior performance of
public schools in modern earthquakes and their critical role as disaster
relief facilities repeatedly demonstrates the Act?s effectiveness.

In 1976 public schools built before the Field Act were phased out of use or
retrofitted to comply with the Act. Private Schools built or altered after
1986 must now comply with similar legislation enforced by local governments.
(Section 17320 et seq Education Code)

However, the Field Act - and particularly its 1.5 to 4 percent construction
premium [13, 14] and extra time required for compliance - is perennially
under criticism by some policymakers, developers and school officials.
Furthermore, local government building officials would like to be allowed
the opportunity to enforce the Act in a manner similar to private schools.

Seismic Safety Commission Efforts to Evaluate the Field Act

Recognizing the continuing need to reassess and modernize the Act to include
advances in social, economic, and technical knowledge, the California
Seismic Safety Commission (CSSC) held two public hearings in 1998 to solicit
advice and recommendations on the future of the Field Act program. An ad hoc
committee developed the attached findings and recommendations based on the
hearings and Commission discussions.

Field Act Purpose:

To protect children and staff from death and injury in public schools grades
K ? 14
and protect the public?s investment in school buildings during and after

 Seismic Safety Commission Findings:

1) It is justifiable to expect K-14 schools to be designed and built to a
higher standard for the protection of life and public investment.

2) Evidence exists from recent earthquakes such as Northridge, Landers, and
Loma Prieta that K-14 facilities perform better than buildings built to age
comparable local codes.

3) Continuous inspection by the inspector of record is a key element to the
success of the Field Act.

4) Field Act authority should remain with the Division of the State
Architect (DSA). Local code enforcement agencies should be allowed to plan
check public schools if certified and technically supervised by DSA.

Seismic Safety Commission Recommendations:

The CSSC recommends that the following be implemented by legislative,
regulatory and administrative changes (no priority has been set at this

a) Identify older Field Act Schools that are at risk of collapse if
subjected to strong earthquake shaking. These are schools built to outdated
seismic design standards, or with deterioration or modifications that
compromise their seismic resistance. School districts should be required to
identify, retrofit or phase out of use structures that pose significant
risks to life in accordance with DSA guidelines and procedures.

b) Grant stop-work authority to DSA to ensure effective code enforcement for
all public school construction.

c) Grant red tag authority to DSA for rapid post-disaster damage assessment,
emergency management and recovery.

d) Require complete code enforcement for mechanical, electrical, plumbing
and architectural systems in new public school construction as currently
required by the model codes for all other occupancies. This could perhaps be
accomplished in cooperation with local building departments.

e) Eliminate Field Act exemptions for charter schools and exemptions for
small modernization projects currently allowed by the Field Act.

f) Require all school districts to evaluate nonstructural elements and abate
unacceptable falling risks when undertaking major alterations, additions,
renovations, or repairs, or in any event, no later than 2010. Require DSA to
adopt mandatory retrofit standards for nonstructural falling risks. Train
personnel at every school district facilities office to recognize and abate
nonstructural risks.

g) Implement effective maintenance programs within each school district to
mitigate dryrot, roof leakage, and other serious maintenance needs that
reduce seismic integrity. Require building evaluations of each school by an
architect or structural engineer at least every 10 years.

h) Require DSA to evaluate in a timely manner the qualifications of any
local agency desiring to plan check public schools, and, if they are
qualified, to supervise them in the same manner as outside consulting
engineers are presently supervised.

i) Strengthen the Private Schools Seismic Safety Act of 1986 (Section 17320
et seq Education Code) to eliminate exemptions, publish regulations in the
California Building Code and require compliance by new day care facilities.

j) Support benefit/cost studies to evaluate the effectiveness of higher
construction costs for public school buildings as identified in the 1992
Little Hoover Commission?s Report titled ?No Room for Johnny?.