Earthquake Repairs May Hit $16 Million for Simi Valley Schools

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Earthquake-related repairs for Simi Valley schools will exceed $6 million and could cost as much as $16 million, depending on how many buildings must be upgraded to meet current seismic codes, school district officials said.

The Simi Valley Unified School District has received $3.8 million in disaster relief funds so far, federal officials said.

But local school officials said they expect state and federal agencies to provide the extra money for all repairs, which include wall cracks and the replacement of overhead lights.

Repairs to quake-damaged schools were previously estimated at about $5 million. But after compiling hundreds of damage survey reports, district officials now say losses exceed earlier projections.

"The immediate repairs will cost in the neighborhood of $6 million," Supt. Mary Beth Wolford said. "However, based on the architectural and engineering reports, we may need to further renovate our schools. That could go as high as $14 (million) to $16 million."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Office of Emergency Services are providing funds for such improvements as the replacement of ceiling tiles with more earthquake-resistant materials.

"We are going to do studies to see what we are eligible for," Wolford said. "The initial emergency repairs were to get the schools open. This is a little different. . . . We are moving more from the reactive to the proactive mode."

For earthquake repairs, FEMA provides 90% of the repair cost and the state provides 10%. For earthquake-related improvements designed to lessen damage in the event of future disasters, FEMA provides 75% of the cost and the state provides 25%, a FEMA spokesman said.

Many Simi Valley schools were built about 20 or 30 years ago and could qualify for government-funded improvements because they do not meet current state seismic standards, district officials said.

Schools are upgraded to new seismic codes only if new buildings are constructed or old structures are remodeled, district spokesman Lowell Shultze said. All 33 Simi Valley schools suffered some damage during the Northridge earthquake, Shultze said, with campuses in the east end hit hardest. Twelve schools sustained structural damage.

The most costly repairs will be at Simi Valley High School, where both the gymnasium and multipurpose room suffered severe structural damage. Repairs are expected to cost about $2 million, Shultze said. Both structures will remain closed for the school year.

District officials are seeking federal funds for a temporary Simi Valley High gym. In the meantime, physical education classes must be held outdoors.

"That is a priority project for us," Shultze said of the temporary gym. "I'm hoping we can have something in there by the first of the year."

Earthquake-related repairs at Sequoia Junior High School and Mountain View School are also expected to be costly, officials said.

Construction workers demolished stucco overhangs at both campuses over the Labor Day weekend after architectural and engineering studies determined that the heavy plaster might not withstand another quake, Shultze said.

Repairs and upgrades to Simi Valley schools could take months, if not years. "We really don't have a timeline set," Shultze said, adding that at least 30 damage studies are still in progress.

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