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Quake Fears to Close 2 Oldest USC Residences

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Times Staff Writer

The two oldest residences at USC will be closed at the end of the semester due to what school officials say is a greater concern for earthquake safety after the devastating Mexico City quake last September.

But the plan has been protested by many of the 234 residents of Touton Hall and Harris Plaza, both for the suddenness of the USC announcement Feb. 6, forcing them to scramble to find more expensive housing, and for the failure to let students know they were living in potentially unsafe buildings in the first place.

Problem Noted in 1981

The City of Los Angeles placed Touton Hall at 942 W. 34th St. and Harris Plaza at 847 Exposition Blvd. on its list of buildings with earthquake safety problems in 1981. A 1981 city law requires pre-1933 masonry buildings, such as the two dormitories, be strengthened or demolished.

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“The Mexican earthquake brought home the reality of a big earthquake,” said Kristine Dillon, associate vice president of student affairs. “We’re living with two facilities we don’t feel comfortable continuing to use.”

‘Parents Are Furious’

“This was the first I knew there were safety problems,” said Stacey Gong, the 18-year-old student president at Harris Plaza, which contains 99 men and women. “My parents are furious I’m in an unsafe building.”

“Who would want to live here?” Ahsen Ahmad, a 21-year-old business major who has lived at Harris Plaza three years, asked in frustration Wednesday. He and others had battled the school’s plans for the building’s closure even after the Feb. 6 announcement, because officials did not originally give reasons for the closure.

The students found the building was originally built to house athletes for the 1932 Olympics and had sought to save it for historical reasons.

Acknowledging that the university had made no public announcement that the buildings were on the 1981 list, Dillon said the buildings are “within the city code standards at this time” and “we’ve been using them in good faith.”

According to Phil Kaainoa, a city Building and Safety Department structural engineer, even if buildings are on the 1981 list, the deadline for owners to make seismic repairs does not come until three or four years after a “compliance order” is issued. The city has not yet issued such an order for either of the two buildings, he said.

Students in both dorms were also frustrated that the university’s action affects the two least expensive dormitories.

Despite a strain on campus and area housing, the buildings’ residents will be absorbed among the university’s 33 other residence halls, Dillon said. But the students noted they now may have to pay up to $1,000 a year or more in extra housing costs.


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