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FEMA Promises Rebuilding Aid, but CSUN Wary

March 12, 1994|JOHN CHANDLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FEMA has yet to officially categorize CSUN's heavily damaged buildings. But under the new policy, "virtually everything we're doing will exceed the 10% value," said Charles Thiel, chairman of the Cal State system's Seismic Review Board and the official deciding building safety issues at CSUN.

Thiel said FEMA's policy would fund seismic upgrades for most of the university's major older buildings. Those he cited, most of them still closed due to quake damage, include the administration building, the Oviatt Library, Sierra Tower, the science complex, engineering building, the south library, and fine arts and speech-drama buildings.

Thiel predicted seismic upgrades also would occur in the University Park Apartments, about half of which remain closed, and the high-rise University Tower Apartments, which were closed before the quake because of seismic and asbestos problems but sustained severe damage in the January temblor.

Officials said it is too early to make a cost estimate for the seismic repairs, although a 1990 state report using conservative figures estimated a $46-million price tag to retrofit about a dozen campus buildings. Thiel said that, once upgraded, the buildings would have a life-safety level for occupants equal to new structures.

The repairs, which make buildings more resistant to collapse, would vault CSUN ahead of many other Cal State campuses in seismic safety, Thiel said. Without the earthquake, he added, many of the buildings likely never would have been upgraded by the university system because of its vast number of buildings.

(The 20-campus Cal State system was criticized after the Loma Prieta quake for not having a seismic policy for its buildings. Trustees adopted such a policy in May, 1993, and plan to start the first in a series of upgrade projects at five other campuses this year using state bond funds).

"We do not want to go in and repair the buildings and have them re-damaged" in a future quake, said Craig Wingo, director of FEMA's Infrastructure Support Division. He said FEMA Director James Lee Witt had made hazard mitigation "the cornerstone of this agency."

In past years, Wingo said, "there's no doubt the agency position was more conservative on a repair-only philosophy." He noted the Stanford, San Francisco and Los Angeles university cases arose under the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

This week, FEMA officials were at Stanford trying to resolve the university's appeal of FEMA's decisions. Still at issue are eight damaged buildings that FEMA maintained needed about $2 million in repairs compared to the university's estimate of about $30 million, Veronin said.

A slightly different list of eight Stanford buildings, including an art museum and two major classroom facilities, remain closed because of unrepaired damage. And the university is still using dozens of portable classrooms set up after the October, 1989, quake.

Like officials elsewhere, Veronin said FEMA was responsive at first, but then the process bogged down in disputes over repair methods, as well as what campus officials called FEMA's lowball damage estimates based on minimal repairs. Stanford officials estimated that the campus suffered damage in excess of $100 million.

At San Francisco State, officials said a major high-rise dormitory, Verducci Hall, also remains closed due to Loma Prieta damage because FEMA's last estimate for structural repairs was about $3.5 million. Campus officials have estimated the damage at up to $17 million.

Comptroller Don Scoble said his campus's debate with FEMA deteriorated into arguments over how large the cracks had to be for FEMA to agree to pay for the repairs. "My sense is they have been guided in the main by the desire to safeguard taxpayers' money," Scoble said.

At Cal State Los Angeles, the Salazar Hall classroom building finally reopened early last year, five years after the October, 1987, Whittier Narrows quake. A student died in the quake when she was hit by a concrete panel that fell from a parking garage.

But Art Flores, vice president for operations, said Salazar Hall now leaks because FEMA officials insisted that its damaged roof be patched rather than replaced.

"It was an inordinately long process," Flores said. "Hopefully, Northridge won't have that experience."

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