Utah Lawmakers Focus on Seismic Safety of Schools

March 8, 2010

Utah schools would be sized up to see how they would fare in the event of a major earthquake under a bill passed by the state House.

The House, on a 50-18 vote, sent House Bill 72 to the Senate for consideration in the waning days of the 2010 session.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City, calls for volunteers from the Structural Engineers Association of Utah to inventory schools for seismic safety and help draft a priority list of schools that need the most attention.

“It’s something long overdue,” Wiley said.

Wiley, a building inspector whose bill is backed by the Utah PTA, sponsored successful legislation four years ago to inventory state buildings for seismic safety.

An informal survey four years ago found that 58 percent of about 800 school buildings were constructed before modern seismic standards took effect in the 1970s.

With about 560,000 students in public and charter schools, the assessment is urgent, quake experts said. Modern building codes have played a major role in reducing deaths from large temblors.

“It’s critical because you can see what happened in Haiti and Chile can happen on the Wasatch Front someday when we have the Big One. It’s a real issue for all our school kids,” said Roger Evans, chairman of the Utah Seismic Safety Commission.

Some lawmakers switched their votes after the bill failed to win House passage on Wednesday.

“This isn’t any kind of a mandate that says they have to repair all that, but at least we know where they stand on it,” said Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, who reversed his position after opposing the bill earlier.

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