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State to Vacate and Demolish Quake-Threatened Office Building

Seismology: Employees will move to Broadway store site at end of 1998, officials say. Demolition of downtown parking garage is nearly completed.

March 17, 1997|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With demolition of a 905-car parking structure at 145 S. Broadway downtown near completion, officials are announcing plans to move 1,750 state employees and vacate the seismically weak Junipero Serra State Office Building next door.

The employee move from the building at First Street and Broadway, however, will not take place until the end of 1998, making it possible to demolish the building in early 1999, said Eugene Spindler, deputy director of the state Department of General Services.

Spindler said that a $69-million historical retrofit of the old Broadway department store building at Fourth Street and Broadway, which has been acquired by the state, must be finished before the employees can move.

The state has begun negotiations aimed at getting the Los Angeles Unified School District to take over the Serra building site and possibly construct a new administrative building there, Spindler said.

He said the parking structure--closed at the end of 1994 after structural engineers reported that it could collapse under even moderate shaking from a future earthquake--will be replaced by surface parking. The parking structure demolition and new paving will cost the state $1.6 million, officials said.

The 1994 engineering report also warned that the Serra office building was in a weakened state, though not as weak as the parking structure.

But the report said it was an acceptable risk for state workers to remain in the building for five years. Under the plan announced last week, they will move after four.

Lawyers for a state employees union sued in 1995 to compel an earlier solution, but the suit was dismissed.

The story of the Serra building illustrates how state officials and engineers rely on the odds that no big earthquake will occur soon while maintaining a schedule to eventually vacate risky buildings.

The Serra building, like nearby Los Angeles City Hall, which is about to undergo a costly seismic retrofit, is only about a mile from a segment of the Elysian Park fault, which could generate a large earthquake.

Scientists believe that intervals between such quakes are very long, but it is not known when the last major quake, which probably would have been larger than a 5.9, occurred on the fault's downtown segment.

Another segment of this fault system ruptured in 1987 in the magnitude 5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake.

Spindler said the state agreed that the Serra building was a lesser risk for collapse in a quake than the parking structure.

The demolition and move are not being undertaken because the state is legally required to do so, Spindler said, adding: "But we are trying to respond to the needs of our employees and provide safe facilities."

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