District hears early damage report

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

District hears early damage reportWhat was originally scheduled as a workshop to craft a 10-year master facilities plan for Sierra Sands Unified School District turned into a report and discussion on damages sustained from July 4-5 earthquakes.

Following suit with local, county, state and federal government agencies, the SSUSD Board of Education voted at its July 11 meeting to adopt its own resolution acknowledging a state of emergency as teams from California Office of Emergency Services, Federal Emergency Management, and Department of State Architects joined district staff in assessments of local school campuses and administrative sites.

While the brand new Murray Middle School campus came through with barely a scratch, other sites will take longer to repair. However, Superintendent Dr. David Ostash said that he is confident the district will be able to reopen by the start of the school year.

While the base was closed, Murray hosted incoming ESDPs that were scheduled to report to work on Monday, July 8. The campus also served as a base of operations for World Central Kitchens, which served tens of thousands of meals in the wake of earthquakes (see related story, special section).

Ostash noted that he waived any sort of hosting fee to the groups.

“It’s important to try and recover what we can, but it’s also critical the school district serve as a hub for the community,” said Trustee Bill Farris.

At the time of the meeting, the financial implications of repairs and any other actions to facilitate a return to school were unknown.

“Currently assessments are being performed by state, county, and private resources that will qualify the district for emergency funding to reimburse the district for expenses incurred during the recovery process,” reported Pam Smith, assistant superintendent of business and support services.

Ostash said that he wanted to acknowledge the support of elected officials and government agencies as the district navigated the crisis.

“We wanted to do something different,” said Farris. “Everybody does trial by fire. We wanted to do trial by quake.”

Board members said they believed this was the first time in the district’s history that such an emergency had been declared.

“Are we doing ‘lessons learned?’” asked Trustee Tim Johnson.

Ostash replied that he had already set up a meeting with the superintendent of the Trona school district to compare notes, and reached out to the superintendent of the district in Paradise — which endured devastating fires last winter.

“I realize the damages sustained through fires and earthquakes are very different, but I suspect a lot of the procurement processes are the same,” he said.

Ostash said he had also been in contact with the president of the Association of California School Administrators, “and many have reached out to me as well.”

He said that SSUSD staff is doing everything they can to make sure they are on a positive and productive path from the beginning.

“The number one goal is to reopen by the start of school,” said Ostash. He said that he is working with DSA to ensure that all sites are safe before hosting students and staff.

He did mention that although the internal damages and content losses may be significant, inspectors noted their shock at seeing the structural integrity of the vast majority of the facilities.

At press time, district officials did not have final estimations available about the costs relating to earthquake damage. Details about those costs, as well as and potential reimbursements, will be reported as they become available.

[For more reports, see board agendas and press releases at www.ssusdschools.org.]

In addition to the earthquake-related items, the board also authorized the purchase of furniture and necessary electrical work to outfit portable classrooms, which will help accommodate incoming seventh- and eighth-grade students from REALMS (formerly Ridgecrest Charter School), which modified its academic instruction program from K-8 to K-6 for the coming year.

The board also discussed the fate of Richmond Elementary School — scheduled to be moved off base within the next few years, thanks to funding from the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment.

“After completing a conditions assessment of the school, and after discussion with personnel from Naval Air Weapons Station, it was determined that building a new school is a better strategy than attempting to modernize the existing school,” said Smith.

NAWS has offered three potential sites for this effort — the existing Vieweg Elementary site, the 35-acre property south of Vieweg and property on Richmond Road near the intersection of Ridgecrest Boulevard.

“One factor in selecting a site for the new school are the environmental impacts of the site. It is necessary to conduct a Phase I Environmental Assessment in order to obtain this information.”

Because of that, the most cost-effective solution may be to work from the existing Vieweg site, which has already undergone an environmental assessment.

The board authorized some $151,000 to PlaceWorks to perform environmental consulting services and analysis necessary to obtain site approval from the California Department of Education. Eighty percent of the cost will be funded by the Office of Economic Adjustment grant.

The board also discussed at the meeting strategies for making the necessary repairs at Richmond — one of the schools most impacted by earthquake — considering the fact that the present site was expected to be retired soon.

Ostash noted the ironic timing of the earthquake leading up to its workshop on the facilities masterplan.

“With a 10-year plan, there’s some visioning required — even an opportunity to reach a little bit.”

He said that it may be difficult to shift out of the board’s and staff’s present mindset of responding to an emergency.

“I would not want our recommendations or decisions to be too influenced by that,” said Ostash.

“You definitely want to look at this with a creative mind, which can be difficult in a reactive state,” agreed Farris. “But there’s also a factor here that these things have a parallel path. If we work too far down one road without considering the other we may find that we have restricted our opportunities because of decisions we’ve made.

“Set [the workshop] aside for tonight while we get our feet on the ground … but from my perspective, I would not like to delay this very long.”

The board voted unanimously to defer the workshop.

Pictured: Superintendent Dr. David Ostash shows how the force of the earthquakes cracked the cement base around poles holding up a Pierce Elementary School shade structure, now red tagged - Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-07-19