District officials finally have the data to back up dramatic concerns about the seismic safety of six aging downtown campuses built before stringent building codes addressed an earthquake threat that has loomed over the region for more than a century.
Shaking is one concern — new buildings are constructed to prevent a total collapse, even if one portion of the building is compromised. But most of these schools also pose a risk because they rest on subpar soil or sand that means trouble if a the structure isn’t soundly anchored.
The results will be used to determine projects in a countywide building program that will be announced later this spring. Every school in the district will eventually be accessed. The downtown campuses were given priority because of their age and the soil conditions.
The results vary for the different campuses. For example, the walls of Buist Academy face the same concerns about holding up to severe shaking, but the building doesn’t have the soil issues like the other schools, Charleston Progressive, Memminger, James Simmons, Archer, and Frasier.
Advocating repairs, district staff say history is on their side — the region was home to one of the largest historical quakes on the East Coast in 1886, killing 60 people and causing about $6 million in damage.
Skeptics argue that time is on their side, with the next big Lowcountry quake possible 250 years off. And then there’s the cost during a recession. Estimates for the repair of the Rivers campus climbed in 2008 with $4 million added to take care of seismic concerns.
The district will now have to decide whether it’s easier (read: cost effective) to upgrade existing facilities or rebuild. Engineers and district staff will also be visiting each of the four operating schools to discuss the findings with parents and teachers.
With vacant buildings elsewhere in the district, staff will be considering possible options for relocating students from the school in the next school year while they determine how to approach fixes. No decisions will be made on temporarily relocating these schools until late March.