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.