Private schools would be required to have seismic evaluations under proposed law 

Following the passage of mandated seismic upgrades for soft-story buildings, San Francisco is focusing on requiring the safety measure for private schools.

Under legislation introduced by Mayor Ed Lee, private K-12 schools would have to undergo seismic evaluations of their facilities within three years.

A new report identified 113 private schools in operation in The City, comprising some 218 buildings including auditoriums and gymnasiums. As many as 124 private-school buildings would likely sustain significant damage in an earthquake, the report said. The facilities serve about 24,000 students, which represents one-third of San Francisco schoolchildren.

While 88 percent of public-school buildings would likely withstand an earthquake, only 43 percent of private school buildings, or 94, would fare the same, according to the report.

The proposal was developed as a recommendation from The City’s Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety, a 10-year study assessing San Francisco’s earthquake risks and methods to mitigate the impacts of a major temblor. As part of that study, the Private Schools Earthquake Safety Working Group was assembled to focus on private schools and released a report in December.

“If the private schools perform especially poorly, they would add immediately and disproportionately to the emergency load on first responders,” the report said. “During the recovery period, damaged private schools that otherwise might serve as neighborhood‐supporting institutions, or even as emergency shelters, might be unable to fill those roles at a crucial time. Perhaps most significantly, if hundreds or thousands of private school students are unable to return to damaged facilities, the public schools (which will likely be hampered by their own damage) might be unable to cover the surge in demand.”

The mayor believes the evaluations “are a good first step in the process,” mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said. “The mayor believes it is critical to work in partnership with our private schools to make sure we understand the seismic needs that exist and the actions that need to be taken to seismically strengthen schools throughout The City.”

While the legislation only mandates seismic evaluations and not retrofits, the private schools would be able to participate in The City’s public-financing option for seismic retrofitting. The finance program was established as part of the mandate for owners of soft-story structures such as apartment buildings, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in April 2013.

The board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee is expected to vote March 24 on the legislation.

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