Tuesday, June 05, 2007

And now, the best editorial ever!

On the State of Schools and Schooling
On solid ground
by Gregory Fenves and Jack Moehle

This story ran as an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, June 1, 2007

The city of Berkeley is suing the University of California to block construction of a student-athlete center next to the historic Memorial Stadium. The lawsuit alleges the new building would be unsafe in an earthquake. With top geologists now reaffirming that there are no active faults under the proposed center, the city's allegation is unfounded from our perspective as earthquake engineers. In fact, the city's lawsuit, filed last December, has the potential to jeopardize the safety of Cal athletes by delaying and possibly derailing the first step of a critical project to seismically retrofit the 83-year-old Memorial Stadium.

The Hayward Fault cuts through Memorial Stadium, which means that a large-magnitude earthquake could severely damage the structure and endanger lives. Each day, nearly 500 students and staff members use the stadium facilities. In addition to training and sports medicine services, the aging edifice houses offices for programs such as football, field hockey, rugby, crew and lacrosse.

Before the retrofit of the stadium can be launched, students and staff must vacate the premises and move into a new, seismically safe building. That is the purpose of the proposed new Student-Athlete High Performance Center. The plans for the center have met rigorous state environmental and earthquake-safety requirements.

Although the student-athlete center will be built near the Hayward Fault, it does not cross it. To confirm this, the campus hired a top firm, Geomatrix Consultants of Oakland, to dig trenches and drill boreholes to investigate the geology at the site. In response to the city's concerns about the study, the campus hired the geologists to return and investigate the site in greater detail.

The results of that examination substantiate the conclusion that there is no fault under the site. Thus, the design is in complete compliance with the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, a state law prohibiting new buildings on earthquake faults. Furthermore, seismologists and engineers know from studies of past earthquakes that the level of ground shaking is approximately the same right next to a fault as it is anywhere else within two miles of the fault. Thus, the new student-athlete center is unlikely to experience ground motion greater than any other building on campus or in downtown Berkeley should a major earthquake occur on the Hayward Fault.

The center has been designed by a leading Bay Area structural engineering firm Forell/Elsesser Engineers. That firm is well known for its earthquake strengthening work on many buildings using advanced technology, including Berkeley Civic Center, San Francisco City Hall, the Asian Art Museum and Oakland City Hall. To further ensure seismic safety, the student-athlete center's design has been subject to rigorous independent review.

Among the experts who have scrutinized and approved the project are Loring Wyllie, chairman emeritus of Degenkolb Engineers and member of the National Academy of Engineering; Craig Comartin, past-president of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute; and UC Berkeley's Seismic Review Committee, which is made up of faculty experts in seismology, geotechnical engineering and structural engineering.

Since 1997, UC Berkeley has invested $500 million in retrofitting nearly 70 percent of its campus buildings identified as seismically at risk. Furthermore, UC Berkeley's goal is to reopen the campus within 30 days of a major earthquake, keeping to a minimum the disruption of classes, research and community services. Indeed, university campuses play an important role in disaster recovery efforts, as was the case with UC Santa Cruz following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Likewise, UC Berkeley will be a key player in the aftermath of a major earthquake along the Hayward Fault. Given what is at stake here, and UC Berkeley's painstaking attention to seismic safety, it is vital that the campus proceed with construction of the Student-Athlete High Performance Center.

Cal athletes and athletic staff deserve the same level of protection as occupants of other seismically upgraded campus buildings. Let them move out of the Memorial Stadium and into a state-of-the-art building that meets meticulous earthquake safety standards.

Gregory Fenves is chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Jack Moehle is director of the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center at UC Berkeley.

Study confirms no active faults under site planned for new Cal student-athlete training center

Independent geologic consulting firm releases study results
May 31, 2007

From the Cal Football Site
BERKELEY - An independent geologic consulting firm has found no active faults under the planned building site of a student-athlete training center slated for construction west of the University of California, Berkeley's Memorial Stadium. The Oakland firm Geomatrix Consultants Inc. released the results of a follow-up study of the site last week.

Last October, Geomatrix gave the site a clean bill of health after extensive exploration that included trenching and numerous borings, and the campus hoped to begin construction early this year. After reviewers from the California Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey suggested additional field exploration to confirm these conclusions, UC Berkeley requested an additional trench and several deeper borings in two small areas of the building footprint where deep fill limits geological investigation.

The new explorations turned up no active fault traces in the planned construction area, confirming the company's earlier conclusions. Geomatrix's conclusions were also supported by the seismic consulting firm William Lettis & Associates Inc., which conducted peer reviews of the 2006 and the 2007 studies.

"The Student-Athlete High Performance Center is an essential element to improve conditions for the success of our student-athletes," said UC Berkeley Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour. "The safety of our students, coaches and staff are of utmost importance, and the Geomatrix findings confirm our belief that the center will be built on a site in full compliance with Alquist-Priolo statutes. With the results of this study, I am confident that we will be able to move forward with the project and will prevail when the facts of the case are presented to the court."

The Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Zoning Act is a California law that prohibits the construction of new buildings on an active earthquake fault. Three lawsuits currently are challenging construction of the center, alleging that it would violate provisions of the act. While the Geomatrix study removes one possible barrier to construction of the center, the pending lawsuits challenge other aspects of the project.

The Student-Athlete High Performance Center, a 132,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art strength and conditioning and sports medicine center, will serve 13 of Cal's 27 intercollegiate sports, including football and 12 Olympic sports. The center is critical to future plans to renovate and retrofit the stadium, which straddles the Hayward Fault and is in seismically poor shape.

Last October, Geomatrix submitted to UC Berkeley its seismic study of the site, concluding that no active fault traces run through the planned construction site. The report was included with the environmental impact report (EIR) submitted that same month to the UC Board of Regents. The Regents certified the EIR and approved the project in December.

Nevertheless, the city of Berkeley filed a lawsuit in December alleging that the student-athlete center would be unsafe in an earthquake. In January, two other lawsuits were filed alleging the same thing and challenging plans to cut down trees to build the center. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller combined the original lawsuit with the lawsuits by the Panoramic Hill Association and a consortium that includes the group Save the Oaks at the Stadium. On Jan. 26, she issued a preliminary injunction barring any construction or preparation for construction until the lawsuits could be heard in trial. No hearing date has yet been set, but one is expected in late summer or fall.

In her decision, Miller alluded to the city's challenge that UC Berkeley's plans would violate the Alquist-Priolo act. Although the first Geomatrix report concluded that there were no active faults under the planned building site, the campus asked Geomatrix to conduct additional trenching and boring to confirm that fault traces were not present beneath the sediment and fill along the easternmost part of the planned footprint of the building.

"We are very pleased that the results of the original and the supplementary field exploration programs provided such extensive data to evaluate the continuity of sediments beneath and adjacent to the building footprint, and to show where the active trace of the Hayward Fault passes though the south end of the stadium to the east of the training center," said Donald Wells, the engineering geologist in charge of the project for Geomatrix.

Professor Gregory L. Fenves, chair of UC Berkeley's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, reviewed both Geomatrix reports and has concluded that the design is in complete compliance with the Alquist-Priolo act. The building will be built with the most modern structural engineering technology to protect UC Berkeley athletes from the ground motion expected during a large magnitude Hayward Fault earthquake, he said.
"Seismologists and engineers know from studies of past earthquakes that the level of ground shaking is approximately the same right next to a fault as it is anywhere else within two miles of the fault," Fenves said. "Thus, the new student-athlete center is unlikely to experience ground motion higher than any other building on campus or in downtown Berkeley should a major earthquake occur on the Hayward Fault."

In contrast, Memorial Stadium, where student-athletes train on a daily basis, is in dire need of seismic retrofitting. That retrofitting cannot begin, however, until the student-athlete center is completed.