About the U Building

March 07, 2012

Campus Cutbacks and Construction

With each state level cut to community colleges, administrative spending at PCC is put under an even more refined microscope. Since the last round of section cuts, students have been critical of the campus’ plans for construction, specifically the evacuation (of and plan to demolish) the U building.

Questions have been raised as to whether the evacuation and rearrangement of students, faculty, and staff who resided in the U building to portable classrooms is worth the actual $5 million (not $15 million), in the midst of a state-wide financial crisis.

So what is so unsafe about the U building? 

The U building, though it may look just as able as any other building on campus, has been deemed seismically deficient by two separate firms. This morning, I met with Vice President van Pelt and saw a several hundred page “Seismic Evaluation of Existing Buildings” that was prepared by Dasse Design in 2008.

Additionally, I received a copy of the two page distilled report on Dasse Design’s evaluations, as reviewed and confirmed in 2010 by a second firm, AMARR Studios. Quoted below are the main points of the results and conclusions on the U building:

RESULTS

[Dasse Design] documents that the TIER 1 analysis identified several possible deficiencies. They included the brace frame connection strength and non-ductile steel detailing. The TIER 2 analysis confirms these deficiencies and further revealed other seismic deficiencies of highly over stressed columns at the braced frames and undersized collector connections at the dragline callouts.

BUILD UP DOUBLE ANGLE SECTIONS- … The braces DID meet the slenderness ratios yet lacked sufficient shear transfer capacity in the (2) high strength bolt components.

BRACED FRAME COMPONENT -COLUMN- …The resultants yielded very high demand capacity ratios for many columns, especially at the highly loaded lower floors. In comparing this model to a current building model, the columns are undersized for the required seismic loads. A failure in this component will lead to a partial loss of the beams supporting the floor system.

CONCLUSIONS

The TIER 2 evaluation confirmed the findings of the TIER 1 evaluation and further identified additional structural weaknesses documented within. This combination of events requires immediate action to address the identified components in the structural system of the building. Therefore, it is the professional opinion of our studio that a formal conference* be immediately scheduled to discuss these findings and establish an action plan for immediate implementation. [Bold emphasis added]

*During this conference, President Rocha and Vice President van Pelt were told the building should come down, or at the very least vacated soon. The study also deemed a few buildings acceptable, while others “required some level of modification” according to van Pelt, “but the U building posed a very serious risk”. That risk is also clearly outlined above in AMARR’s report.

Renovation versus Demolition

But it gets more complicated. The U building would have to be vacated anyway for safety reasons if renovation was to even begin, because of added structural instability and the possibility of harmful asbestos exposure. Additionally, because the renovation wouldn’t be approved without other components of the building being upgraded to current building standards as well, the idea to renovate spiraled out of financial feasibility very quickly.

It is unfeasible to renovate a building when the total cost of renovation exceeds 50% of that building’s value.

Because the stacked costs of retrofitting and upgrading the U building for seismic safety and current building code -in addition to removing the hazardous asbestos before renovating- is unfeasible, the U building will remain unoccupied until funding is secured to demolish and replace it.

Calculated Risks

Given our current financial situation, $5 million is without a doubt a large investment for PCC, but for it to go towards safer classrooms for students, staff, and faculty is something that shouldn’t be berated upon.

Infrastructural safety is the responsibility of Administration and I’d rather investments be made toward the safety of the PCC community, as opposed to potentially putting lives at risk with continued use of the U building. The first of two recent studies on the U building was conducted over three years ago, so the decision to finally vacate the U building this year was a well-examined one.

At the last Board of Trustees meeting, van Pelt stated in his budget report that he will sleep better at night knowing that the U building will soon have a fence around it; after reading the strong and urgent language of the both firms’ findings, I agree with him.

If you have any questions about Facilities & Planning – the U building specifically — or want to be involved in discussion regarding the Facilities Master Plan 100, please shoot me an email at aspcc.hisrael@gmail.com or visit me in my office hours.


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