Reports indicate start of school will not be delayed

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Reports indicate start of  school will not be delayed“There are many layers to our assessment, and I don’t want to say that I have definitive information, but based on all the preliminary data we have gathered, we believe that school will open on time.”

Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Ostash posted a detailed letter to parents and staff (see SSUSD Facebook Page) on Thursday, July 11, that outlined where SSUSD officials and consultants are in determining the extent of damages.

“There are obvious risk factors and unknowns,” said Ostash. “For example future earthquakes could cause large-scale damages, or as we deepen our systematic assessments, we could discover additional liabilities.”

Among those ongoing analyses are surveys of the sewer systems, heating-and-cooling systems, and other beneath-the-surface infrastructure.

“So there are a number of things that could stress our timeline, or reveal additional vulnerabilities that would require taking specific sites or classrooms offline,” he said.

“We have tried to think through all the different realities and unknowns, but at this point we feel confident that we have the right support from our local, county, state and now federal agencies who are working together to compile information that is as accurate as is humanly possible.”

The impact on schools is on a spectrum of almost no damage — such as at the newly rebuilt Murray Middle School — to moderate repairs at some of the older school sites.

“Right now, it looks like those repairs can all be made before the start of the school year.”

Possible exceptions include Richmond Elementary School — which is one of the oldest facilities in the district, and located on the restricted Naval base — and Vieweg.

“With Richmond, which is one of our schools that has not yet been modernized, we had already identified needs for improvements. And just recently it has been placed on an approval list for new construction funds available through the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment” — the same mechanism that provided some of the funds for some $75 million for construction at Murray and Burroughs High School.

“The other notable exception is Vieweg, which is another of our older facilities. But fortunately we have very limited student programs there,” said Ostash.

In most ways, he said, the timing of the earthquakes were positive in terms of potential impact on SSUSD students. “Not only did the 6.4 happen on a holiday, but it also happened right in the middle of our summer break. So we did not have to test the implications of an earthquake that occurred at a time of day when our schools would normally have been in session.”

So upwards of 5,000 students and 500 employees were spared from exposure to that risk.

“On the flip side, the SSUSD is very much a family in terms of our normal routine and level of constant communication,” he said. “I find myself feeling a bit anxious to make contact with everyone to find out how they are doing.”

He has already heard from many about both their physical and emotional well-being. “I feel reassured that there have been no significant injuries or devastating losses, but I do know that many of our employees have suffered.”

Ostash noted that while engineers and consultants discern the scope of structural and logistical impacts of the earthquakes, his focus has been on the students.

“The whole reason Sierra Sands exists is to serve students. Yes, we are a community resource, but our mission is to teach, nurture and prepare our children for the future,” he said.

“What I see as our greatest strategic interest — beyond determine everyone’s immediate safety — is helping to ensure that our children will be okay in the future. To that end, we have already reached out to see if children are exhibiting signs of emotional distress.

“Please, I urge our families to call if they are aware of any of these needs. We have local counseling resources available at the district, but we have also arranged for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office to bring in social workers based on need.”

While the details of physical repairs are still being worked out, Ostash said that he has been assured by state and county Offices of Emergency Services that funding mechanisms are in place.

Anyone in need of district support is urged to call 760-499-1600.

Pictured: Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Ostash is interviewed by a television crew in the damaged annex of Richmond Elementary School. - Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2019-07-11