Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 27, 2017

A messy business

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

Last night the big Alameda news was the possible closure of Lum Elementary school.

However, not for the reasons that one would normally think.  After all Lum is one of the larger schools in Alameda.  Lum chugs along sort of minding its own business, never really causing any issues for the District.  In fact Lum was slated to get a new building constructed to help with capacity issues.  But, because of that expansion, the District discovered that Lum was on land that had a high probability of liquefaction in the big one.

From AUSD’s press release:

Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) officials told family and staff at Lum Elementary School today that structural engineers have determined that the school cannot be guaranteed to be safe for long-term continued use because the soil on which it was built has been found to be susceptible to liquefaction in the event of an earthquake.

The risk was discovered just recently as the district was preparing to build a new classroom building on the Lum campus. Tests at the school indicate that during a strong earthquake the soils would be subject to liquefaction (a process by which sandy or silty soils lose their strength during strong ground shaking and behave like a liquid). The structural engineer subsequently determined the building could sink as much as 5 inches in a 100-year earthquake and become structurally unsafe.

The district then ordered five more samples to be taken from around the Lum campus. Each sample came back with similar results, causing concern for the existing campus buildings.  As a result, the engineers have recommended that “the district develop a plan to provide suitable alternate facilities for the students as soon as feasible.”

Before anyone says any of the following statements (1) liquefaction danger is every where, what about the other schools and/or homes in Alameda, (2) why did they build Lum there if this were an issue, (3) why are we building new homes of there are liquification issues?

For (1) houses are typically lighter than non-residential uses so if there is liquefaction of the ground, unless it’s a larger building like the multi story units we saw images collapsing in the Marina and Sunset districts in San Francisco, they should be able to withstand some level of liquefaction without structural damage.   (2) Lum was built in the 50s? 60s? something like that which was before there was a lot of earthquake safe building techniques.  (3) New homes are typically more earthquake resistant than old homes even if they are built on land prone to liquefaction.  The ground is prepped through compaction (aka big piles of dirt, you can see that happening right behind Target right now for the Alameda Landing units).  Plus the foundations are post tension slabs which is more resistant to the effects of liquefaction.

Anyway there is a meeting tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. at Wood Middle School for more information.  The District and the Board will continue to collect more comments at the May 9 School Board meeting and the direction will be given by the Board at the May 23 Board Meeting.

There’s a good FAQ here from the District which should answer a lot of questions for those of us without children at Lum.  For the families at Lum even though the rationale might make sense intellectually, the emotional response to losing your school is never going to be easy or simple.   At this point we’re talking about relocating nearly 500 students to other schools in Alameda. The upside is that there are a lot of elementary schools in Alameda.  But the process of relocation is not going to be easy because siblings will need to stay together, friends who have formed bonds will want to stay together.  The District cannot close the school and then just decide to assign kids wherever there’s room without some sort of preference ranking or request to stay with a certain cohort of students.  Making arbitrary assignments is how you lose students to charter schools or private school where there is a higher level of certainty about staying with a set group of friends.  This may not be as important for Kindergarten or First Grade students, but it’s critically important for 4th and 5th grade students.

One thing that would not be feasible is to move an entire grade with teaching staff to another school and say “hey this is a Lum annex but at Ruby Bridges or Haight or Maya Lin or any other school with space” That would be incredibly disruptive to the school they are moving to and create immediate cultural divisions rather than allow students (and parents/guardians) to become a part of a new school community.

Additional ripple effects will be had on the teaching staff across the district, if Lum teachers have seniority over other teachers at other schools there might be displacement of newer, younger teachers at various schools.



  1. What about Wood Middle School? I’m assuming, being adjacent, that it would have similar issues in an earthquake.

    Comment by Jack Mingo — April 27, 2017 @ 6:37 am

    • According to reports, so far all other schools are fine. Including Wood. Latest rumor is that Wood is on bay mud, should be more information on Friday.

      Comment by Lauren Do — April 27, 2017 @ 6:51 am

      • Bay mud is what we were told in the meeting last night.

        Comment by ajryan — April 27, 2017 @ 7:51 am

      • Just an FYI, this Strip The City: San Francisco episode had a good bit on Bay Mud and liquefaction:

        Comment by Lauren Do — April 27, 2017 @ 8:09 am

        • Wood was seismically retrofitted back in the 1990s. It has a huge ugly moment frame on the exterior and the former director of maintenance Bob De Luca told me the pilings are 75 feet deep. I called him after going to a back to school night. I walked across a room of the second floor classroom and was disturbed that I felt movement. It was creepy that 180 pounds could create perceptible movement in a heavy structure like that, but I swear I was not hallucinating. I seem to recall being nearly alone and the only body in motion.

          Comment by MI — April 27, 2017 @ 10:51 am

  2. good points all around

    Comment by MP — April 27, 2017 @ 7:41 am

  3. Did they also test the building where Nea is?

    Comment by Angela — April 27, 2017 @ 8:00 am

    • They reported that all other schools “within the District were tested and found satisfactory.

      Comment by TH — April 27, 2017 @ 9:22 am

  4. I have two kids at Lum and we have been part of the community for 5 years. This totally sucks. Families are going to be grieving this loss for a long time.

    Something I’m curious about is what will be done with incoming TK/kindergarden students who are districted for Lum. I was told redistricting can take years. In the absence of new boundaries, are there any regulations that dictate where school-less pupils are enrolled?

    I think the language/tone of the press release is a lot more sober and realistic versus the FAQ. The full text is here:

    The FAQ, and the superintendant (in his comments and responses in the meeting last night) are trying to soften the blow with a lot of may/maybe/might. The district should respect the public’s intelligence enough to be direct and straight with us. It’s obvious that Sean’s instinct is to say what people want to hear, but this is a case where it’s his duty to clearly communicate a message that people aren’t happy about.

    Comment by ajryan — April 27, 2017 @ 8:08 am

    • If the Board of Education decides to close Lum for 2017-18, incoming TK/K families will be reassigned to other, nearby sites. District staff is still exploring options for how this would work, but we are committed to letting families know as soon as possible.

      Comment by Susan Davis (AUSD Community Affairs) — April 27, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

    • Does anyone know if there are any non-occupied or charter occupied district owned sites that are potential relocation prospects?

      Comment by Retiredteacher — April 29, 2017 @ 7:38 am

  5. I don’t know why this is suddenly news. The liquefaction potential of the South Shore fill has been known for decades:

    [PDF] Liquefaction potential index and seismic hazard mapping in the San Francisco Bay area, California: Holzer, Toprak, & Bennett

    Comment by vigi — April 27, 2017 @ 9:50 am

    • I bet you’re great at eulogies.

      Comment by ajryan — April 27, 2017 @ 9:58 am

    • School districts are required to meet building standards at the date of construction. Lum met the existing standards for 1961.

      Building standards were changed in 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Hence why construction at Wood Middle School required the reinforcement of the external steel beams when modernization work was done in the 2000s..

      Comment by Mike McMahon — April 27, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

      • In addition, liquefaction was not well understood back when Lum was built. These days, geotechnical and structural engineers have a much better understanding of how liquefaction works, why it’s a concern (especially at school sites), and how it needs to be mitigated. They also have more sophisticated tools to measure soil’s risk of liquefying.

        Comment by Susan Davis (AUSD Community Affairs) — April 27, 2017 @ 3:02 pm

      • The article cited in my post above is a scientific report on the results of liquefaction measurements in Alameda & surroundings, done in 2002 after Loma Prieta.. I tried to post a link to it, but couldn’t find one that isn’t broken. You can easily find it by title or author search. It isn’t very long and has color diagrams. [beware, it also has calculus!]

        Liquefaction potential = 72% chance at South Shore fill.

        Back in 2002, they already knew everything that was “suddenly discovered” today in 2017. The question is: if such studies triggered the reinforcement of Wood, why didn’t they even think about Lum? Lum has been around longer than Wood.

        Comment by vigi — April 28, 2017 @ 11:18 am

  6. Back in the day… I was a 7th grader when the old Porter Middle School burned down (which cleared the way for the street closure of Alameda Ave and the new AHS). The displaced were distributed around town to the other middle schools. That might have been tough for the families, but the students liked seeing the imported fresh new faces. I had a crush on a certain one of them… aahh youth! Anyway, it is not all bad.

    Comment by CD — April 27, 2017 @ 10:36 am

  7. Would there be any teacher displacement though? Even with teachers having to be moved to different school, is the enrollment at all of the other schools low enough to absorb additional students and not need all of the teachers who were at Lum?

    Comment by Jennifer — April 27, 2017 @ 10:38 am

  8. The anniversary of the SF earthquake was April 18. Given the serious nature of this issue, and the advice of the engineer to AUSD legal counsel, and the description of all the doors becoming inoperable thus impeding evacuation, I cannot fathom the reason for the delay in moving students other than it is “inconvenient.”

    Here are his words:

    “Unfortunately, given that the liquefiable soil occurs from near the surface down to approximately 50 feet, there does not appear to be a feasible mitigation technique for these existing buildings. It should be noted that the California Building Code would not require that the buildings or site be vacated by the district. However, this new information will limit the work that can be performed to the existing buildings to that which is non-structural in nature. We recommend that
    the district develop a plan to provide suitable alternate facilities for students and staff as soon as feasible.”

    Here’s a solution – have the Superintendent and district staff vacate their plush offices on Challenger Drive and switch the District HQ’s to Lum while Lum students and staff can be on Challenger. Surely that is the least they can do to show their concern.

    I’d like to know what District official recommended expanding Lum. As Vigi pointed out, it is common knowledge in Alameda that liquefaction is likely in South Shore if there was a severe earthquake.

    Comment by Captain Obvious — April 27, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

    • So District Office staff should be put in harm’s way? Wow. That is a lot of hate. Just remember that office makes sure everyone gets paid, has a budget, textbooks, equipment, etc. The old DO argument is tired and really ridiculous.

      Comment by Person — April 27, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

    • District staff was moved out the District Office for similar seismic concerns. Board of Education members become personally liable following being notified of seismic issues and ignoring them.

      Comment by Mike McMahon — April 27, 2017 @ 2:48 pm

    • Sounds like your pitchfork arm’s a’twitchin’. Remember, righteous (if unfounded) outrage is better approached as a marathon than a sprint. Even Trump is showing signs of understanding that.

      Comment by BC — April 27, 2017 @ 3:53 pm

  9. Hey, teachers and parents. If you’re going to hang out and drink and talk before meetings, you might want to go to San Leandro or Oakland instead of RockWall. Geez. And if you’re going to break the rules at RockWall I’m sure you’d want your students/kids doing the same thing?

    As far as the school, we begged for our school in Hayward to get redone because it was a slab school, on a hill, across the street from a fault line, to no avail. We loved our school, staff, kids and community, but the priority must be safety.

    Timing wise, a move of this type takes time. There is no genie to wave a wand to make the decisions necessary and perform the moves and setups.

    I understand your pain, but step up and be supportive. Stuff happens.

    Comment by Retiredteacher — April 29, 2017 @ 7:28 am

  10. Should have known better than to build a school next to street named “Sand Creek.

    Comment by Jack Richard — April 29, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

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