State shakes Woodlake Unified’s seismic progress

Woodlake Unified School District continues to find a way to renovate their main office building after an earthquake in 2021

WOODLAKE – Woodlake’s school district board members were given a rundown on the structural concerns of their century-old office this month, nearly two years after an earthquake shook their foundation.

After a July 8, 2021 earthquake, Woodlake Unified School District (WUSD) employees were forced to evacuate the district’s main office building. It was clear that the 100-year-old district office wouldn’t be able to withstand seismic activity, which led superintendent Laura Gonzalez to develop potential plans for renovation just days later. Fast forward to 2023, and the district is still searching for ways to renovate the building to be earthquake-ready. However, the district has to jump through a few hoops before they get there, and are focused on student projects before the building improvements.

“We are working on various student projects right now as that’s our focus, while at the same time we’re waiting for one more report. When that report comes in, I’ll bring it to the board,” Gonzalez said. “Then at some point, in the fall possibly, we may ask for [the board’s] direction.”

So far, the building has undergone three different inspections to measure the extent of improvements that need to be completed. In 2022, Lane Engineers, Inc. inspected the district office, and provided WUSD with structural report findings which concluded that the building is a safety hazard for occupants if an earthquake were to happen. According to the report, the unreinforced masonry building is deemed to be the worst type of building to have in California since they have been proven to be unsafe during earthquakes. The framing was not up to code, as the walls are not anchored to the roof. 

Not only that, but the floor joists were not properly anchored to the walls, and there are vertical cracks that are visible in the walls which contribute to the lack of structural integrity. The plaster in the ceilings has considerable cracking and has the possibility of collapsing during an earthquake. This year they also found lead in the paint and asbestos in the walls.

Gonzalez knew that their next step would be determining who had jurisdiction over the building’s improvements. They found that the building was not approved by the Department of State Architect (DSA), which approves all repairs on school sites throughout the state, pushing renovations out even farther. Not only that, but since the building is not set to withstand an earthquake, the district is in violation of the Field Act Ed Code Section 17368, which requires all buildings that house employees or students to be able to withstand an earthquake. 

Because of this, there are now signs in every entrance of the building that state the office is not earthquake-ready. Luckily, though, the district office building does not house students, so this would only apply for the teachers housed in the building.

In a 2021 board meeting, just a few days after the earthquake, Gonzalez presented the board with three proposals on possible renovations. These proposals are still options today, but Gonzalez said that there are no set plans yet. Two of the proposals involved building a brand new district office entirely. This would also allow for a building expansion which paves the way for a variety of ideas including the inclusion of a new library for Woodlake Valley Middle School, a larger area for the IT department, a boardroom, two conference rooms, plus all of the current administrative offices.

The two proposals include two different types of buildings: modular and stick built. Stick built techniques are the most common type of build for modern day homes, and are constructed on site from the ground up. Modular builds, on the other hand, are constructed off-site and transported to the location. According to Gonzalez, a lot of school districts are going the route of modular buildings, which was included in one of her proposals as the most affordable option.

The most expensive option would be an attempt to save the current building through renovation. This option would be nearly double the cost of a new building as it would have to be taken down to the studs to address all of its issues. It also would not add the extra space needed for expansion. The exact cost of the project has yet to be determined. Part of the funding would likely come from the reserves with the rest possibly coming from a loan.

Start typing and press Enter to search