Campus & community, Campus news

What you should know about seismic issues on Berkeley’s campus

An update on the latest seismic evaluation of campus buildings

Sather Gate
UC Berkeley's Sather Gate (Photo by Peg Skorpinski)

Chancellor Carol Christ sent a message to the UC Berkeley community on Wednesday about an ongoing seismic assessment of the roughly 600 buildings owned or occupied by the university.

What’s happening?

Berkeley is in the middle of conducting seismic evaluations of the more than 600 buildings on campus. These evaluations are part of a coordinated effort by the UC Office of the President to assess the seismic safety of all buildings across the 10-campus system using new standards.

While engineering firms hired by the campus have finished checking over 100 of Berkeley’s buildings, many of them on the core campus, they are still assessing more than 400 other structures.

Many of the structures that must still be assessed are small, lightly used or far from the main campus, including, for example, 39 buildings at a Berkeley research station north of Fort Bragg.

Early reports show that six occupied buildings on the core campus have been given a rating of very poor.

A very poor rating means an earthquake could cause extensive structural and nonstructural damage, collapse or create falling hazards that would represent a risk to life.

It is important to note that a building’s rating can be the result of seismic deficiency in just one portion of the structure. A very poor rating does not necessarily indicate that an entire building is compromised.

Which buildings on the core campus are we talking about?

The six occupied buildings on the core campus with very poor ratings are:

  • Donner Lab Addition
  • Durant Hall
  • Evans Hall
  • Moffitt Undergraduate Library
  • Stephens Hall
  • Wellman Hall

The new ratings do not mean these buildings are any less safe than they were before. And, in some cases, not every part of the building is at risk.

Evaluators are using the strictest seismic standards, developed in recent years by earthquake and engineering experts.

For some buildings, simple retrofits could improve its seismic rating. In other cases, engineers may recommend demolishing the entire structure.

When will we know more?

Engineers expect to complete their assessment of all buildings owned or occupied by the university in June 2020. The results will be analyzed and shared with the campus community.

The campus is assessing the situation and considering all available, realistic options to limit occupancy and usage of seismically deficient buildings.

Is this a surprise?

We’re no strangers to understanding the risks earthquakes present to Berkeley buildings. After all, the Hayward Fault runs right through campus.

In the past few decades, Berkeley has invested over $1billion dollars to improve its seismic safety. A few recent examples include:

  • An ongoing retrofit project at Giannini Hall
  • An extensive project that begins this month at Woo Hon Fai Hall
  • The demolition of Tolman Hall
  • The demolition of 2223 Fulton St.

What’s the plan from here?

Once the seismic evaluation is complete, Berkeley and UC system leaders will work with seismic, engineering and policy experts to sort at-risk buildings by their level of risk, occupancy and usage.

Current estimates suggest that the cost to retrofit or replace seismically deficient buildings at Berkeley could exceed $1 billion.

Finding money to fund the retrofit, or replacement, of buildings will be our first priority. We’ll be counting on the UC Regents, state leaders and California voters to understand the importance of securing the safety of our campus buildings.

For example, a bond measure endorsed by the UC Regents currently being considered by state legislators would place a measure on California’s March 2020 ballot to raise $4 billion for infrastructure and maintenance projects across the UC system.

UC policy requires that seismically risky buildings be retrofitted, replaced or emptied by 2030.

In the meantime, Berkeley leaders will be reviewing realistic options to limit occupancy and usage of seismically deficient buildings.

We will spare no effort to make our campus as safe as possible, as quickly as possible.

I work or study in one of the buildings rated “very poor.” Where can I learn more?

A complete summary of the issue, was shared as a Cal Message with the entire campus community.

Detailed information on campus buildings and seismic ratings, including a complete engineering report for each building surveyed so far, are also available.