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Earthquake rules may alter planned renovations

Discussion in 'Commercial Seismic' started by mark handler, Feb 26, 2012.

  1. mark handler

    mark handler Sawhorse

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    Earthquake rules may alter planned renovations

    New state requirements cover ‘critical buildings’

    By Deirdre Fernandes Globe Staff /

    http://www.boston.com/yourtown/newton/articles/2012/02/26/earthquake_codes_rock_some_renovations/

    In 1755, the largest earthquake in the state’s history rocked through Massachusetts, shattering chimneys, felling stone fences, and drying up springs.

    Few earthquakes since then have left as much of a dent on the state, but a recently adopted set of state building codes is forcing communities to plan for the next big one. And the cost of protecting critical existing buildings could send tremors through local taxpayers.

    In Newton, the requirements could upend plans to renovate two fire stations. Other communities - including Lexington and Natick - with long-term hopes of renovating police buildings and fire stations could also be affected.

    Under the building code, which was adopted a year and half ago and is still being tweaked, communities that are renovating critical buildings - such as fire stations, emergency shelters, and police stations - that are made of unreinforced masonry must incorporate protections to ensure the building can stand up to an earthquake.

    “You don’t want to have an earthquake and have the fire trucks not able to roll out,’’ said Mike Guigli, a technical director with the state’s Department of Public Safety and a liaison to its Board of Building Regulations and Standards, which instituted the new codes.

    Many of the state’s older buildings are made of unreinforced masonry, which can crumble under the pressures of even a moderate earthquake, Guigli said.

    “It could be devastating,’’ he said.

    The cost of quake-proofing, though, can tip the scale between renovating and replacing.

    In Newton, where officials are hoping to renovate the Oak Hill and Newton Centre fire stations, it may just be cheaper to construct a whole new building because some of these requirements could cost substantially more than anticipated, said Alderman Lenny Gentile.

    “When I say, ‘substantially more,’ I’m not embellishing it,’’ Gentile said. Much of the cost would come from building new walls, he added.

    The city’s consultants are still trying to understand what additions these new codes will require and how much they will cost. Initial estimates indicate that seismic improvements could add about $1.5 million to the $5.7 million cost of upgrading the Newton Centre station, according to city officials.

    “Now, we need to find ways to cover the unanticipated costs,’’ Gentile said.

    Newton won’t be the only community likely to experience the sticker shock.

    Lexington is among other towns also looking at fire station renovations that could trigger these new code requirements, said Brett Donham, a partner in the firm of Donham & Sweeney Architects, which works with several communities on civic buildings.

    “It means that the cost of renovating these buildings has gotten very, very expensive,’’ Donham said. “It’s going to affect every municipality that has an existing fire station or police station.

    Pat Goddard, Lexington’s director of public facilities, said the town would need to include these earthquake-proofing upgrades if it renovates the police headquarters.

    Lexington officials will consider the facility requirements next fiscal year, and Goddard said while he expects the requirements to cost more money, they will also protect the lives of people inside.

    “You’re improving the inventory of buildings,’’ Goddard said.

    In Natick, where renovating a fire station has been discussed for several years, although nothing is planned, officials are keeping an eye on the new requirements.

    “I’m not surprised that the building code has finally been upgraded,’’ said Maurice Pilette, the Fire Department’s fire protection engineer. “It is an additional construction cost.’’

    In the seaside town of Duxbury, where hurricane-proofing buildings has long been a priority, including the new earthquake protections didn’t stretch the budget for a current firehouse renovation project, said Scott Lambiase, the town’s building commissioner.

    “That wasn’t a complicated structure,’’ Lambiase said.

    But upgrading a building like a school to withstand earthquakes and meet other building code requirements is a different story, he said.

    Schools aren’t in the same critical building category, but if a certain amount of work is done on the facility, the community needs to also make earthquake upgrades.

    Duxbury officials concluded that instead of extensively renovating the town’s middle and high schools, they would just replace them, Lambiase said.

    Construction on the schools is scheduled to start this summer, he said.

    While Massachusetts may not be considered the epicenter of earthquakes, its building codes have included earthquake considerations for years, but mostly for new buildings.

    Ashburnham Fire Chief Paul Zbikowski, the president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, said most of his organization’s members are used to incorporating earthquake precautions into new construction projects.

    When Ashburnham built a new public safety facility in 2008, officials had to ensure that it was earthquake proof, Zbikowski said.

    “I asked, ‘When was the last time we had an earthquake in Ashburnham?’ ’’ he said. “You never know when it can happen . . . With people’s lives, it’s hard to be too cautious.’’

    In recent years, the state’s home-grown building code started to require earthquake upgrades for owners who substantially renovated their buildings, or changed the use by increasing the number of people who occupied the facility, said Joe Zona, a senior principal at a Waltham-based engineering firm, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger. Zona is also the chairman of the state’s structural advisory committee.

    But in 2010, Massachusetts followed other states nationwide and adopted the International Building Code, with some local amendments. The code is based heavily on California’s standards.

    The new code requires that even for minor renovations, such as the addition and elimination of doors, to critical buildings, communities need to make seismic upgrades.

    That might be overreaching and cause unnecessary financial hardship, Zona said.

    The state is considering some changes to the building code that would soften these requirements, and trigger the structural upgrades only when there is significant renovation.

    The state’s Board of Building Regulations and Standards will consider final recommendations to the code next month, Guigli said.

    “We’ve been given some feedback that it needs to be tweaked,’’ Guigli said.

    Still, communities have to ask why not spend the extra money to earthquake-proof a building when they are already pouring millions to renovate it, Zona said.

    “There’s definitely a policy issue,’’ Zona said. “The code is a minimum standard.’’

    Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@ globe.com
     
  2. watai0102

    watai0102 Member

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    Yes, sometimes the power of nature is not human control
    This we must kown
     
  3. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    The message I hear is the sky is falling.

    Take a deep breath. It is likely that the sky is not falling.

    Anybody who talks about a building being earthquake proof does not know what he is talking about

    It would be interesting to know exactly what code we are talking about. Is it a version of the IBC and if so what version?

    The problem has not been caused by the new code. The code does not change the fact that the buildings would perform poorly in an earthquake. All the code does is make people aware of the problem so they cannot hide their head in the sand.

    This is interesting because Boston has typically been one of the few places in the eastern part of the country that has had an awareness of earthquakes. A decent size earthquake in NYC would give urban renewal a new meaning.

    It is a misstatement to blame the provisions on California. The seismic provisions are no longer dominated by California. These are national standards.. If there are a lot of California engineers involved with these national standards it is because historically California and the west coast were the only placed that worried about this. This changed when the Feds funded an earthquake research center at SUNY Buffalo
     
  4. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    In our little town the city tried to float a bond issue to build a new city hall for themselves in the late 40s, it failed, so they discovered the 1933 Field Act and condemned a nice 30s brick school building, rented a slew of ugly portables and put the kids in the portables, then they floated a new bond issue to build a new school on another site. After that passed they quietly converted the old brick school into a new city hall even though it was unreinforced masonry, it stayed that way until the late 90s when it was earthquake retrofitted.

    In the meantime the city became a ghost town as people started driving to malls, the only people there were county employees that cleared out as soon as they could in the afternoons, slowly the city started coming back to life then the Napa earthquake hit and they decided to mandate immediate earthquake retrofitting, The Bank of America and even Starbucks left town, my shoemaker was one of the few businesses that worked through the retrofitting going on over his head, I went to see him a week ago and he was gone, I did reach hm by phone and he said his rent went from $600 a month to $6,000 a month so he put his equipment into storage and is looking for a space to rent in another town, looking for a city that doesn't have expensive earthquake codes. I looked him up on D& B , he was doing $72,000 a year, how is a guy doing $72,000 a year worth of business going to pay $6,000 a month rent to cover the costs of earthquake retrofitting?
     
    #4 conarb, Jul 22, 2017 at 1:39 PM
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2017 at 1:49 PM
  5. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    How much of that $6,000 per month was to cover the cost of the retrofit and how much was it because this is what similar spaces are renting for in the area. The question is what is the tradeoff between retrofitting buildings to make them safer and the risk to human life represented by this buildings.

    I find it interesting that Ford was criticized for performing a cost benefit analysis with the Pinto yet individuals devalue the risk when it comes to earthquake safety of buildings.

    Given that school districts are instruments of the state in California I doubt that the city could condemn a school building. On the other hand there has have been a number of efforts to have all of the pre Field Act buildings retrofitted. In other words the school building was going to be retrofitted or no longer used as a public school in any case.
     
  6. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    Mark:

    I have no idea, the space is now occupied by a decorator shop with white-painted wicker furniture and other goo-gaws, I don't see how they can pay that kind of rent. Most of the retrofitted buildings are sitting vacant so a market hasn't been developed as yet. I do know that appraisers give zero value to an earthquake-proof building of any kind, they just go by average rentals per square foot, in the case of the cobbler the landlord may have thought he saw a chance to make some money off the one guy who was already there and in the process start establishing a higher per square foot value for the remodeled downtown, one estate owns much of it, they may have wanted him out since they are trying to turn the town into a millennial wine-bar setting with dining on the sidewalks etc., an old fashioned shoe maker maybe didn't fit their plans as you can see from his gross sales.

    As to the school building all I remember was many in town were up in arms, people saying we voted down a new city hall and they found a way to get it anyway with the Field Act putting all those poor little kids in those ugly portable buildings, that was the first I heard of the Field Act.
     
  7. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    The Field Act was passed after an earthquake where a number of school buildings collapsed. The only thing that prevented students being killed was the fact that the earthquake occurred early in the morning before the start of school. The Field Act requires that all school buildings be designed to resist earthquakes, the designs be checked by a state agency, and inspection be monitored. Local building departments have no jurisdiction. But this did not mandate anything for the pre Field Act Buildings.

    I do not believe that the law ever explicitly required a pre Field Act Building be upgraded but there have been a number of state programs that funded upgrades or replacements. In a number of cases school districts have been convinced to replace old school buildings because of the risk, a case in point being San Mateo High School.
     
  8. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    Mark:

    We have a school here in Alameda that has just been closed due to liquification concerns.

    If you view the video in the link below you will see parents protesting and even some engineers disagree as to the risk. Lum is interesting since it's mid-century modern, the main space is all open and can be divided into smaller spaces by huge floor-to ceiling walnut Pella Doors, I did some remodeling there not long after it was built, interestingly for me is that I got an account with Pella and was able to buy their doors and windows wholesale for years, unfortunately I didn't use that account for a few years and they cancelled it and when an architect specified Pella windows I had to buy them at inflated prices from their Pella franchise dealers. Lum is located on the west end of Alameda in an area called South Shore, all of South Shore is built on fill that Utah Construction pumped out of the bay, and eventually Utah created an even larger area west of South Shore called Bay Farm Island, since these areas are built on mud pumped out of the bay I don't doubt the liquification potential; however, I suspect that most of those students who attended Lum also lived on the bay fill that created South Shore and Bay Farm Island. It's been there 58 years without an earthquake strong enough to cause a problem, there is risk in everything we do, I think the money would be better spent in other areas, we have lots of problems with schools now, Governor Brown recently awarded high school degrees to 60,000 kids who couldn't pass their exit exams, many after repeated attempts, some as many as 8 times, I'd rather Alameda put the money there and at least try to educate the kids.


    ¹ http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/05/23/earthquake-safety-fears-prompt-officials-to-close-alameda-school/
     

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