May 29 2014

OPINION: Havens Faced a Catastrophe

New Information on Havens Provided.

As an employee of the Piedmont Unified School District familiar with the rebuilding of Havens Elementary School, it was with great interest that I read the comments of E Boyer, who wrote the following as part of an opinion piece in The Piedmont Post (“Just Kidding…But Seriously – The Jackass Category”) dated May 21, 2014:

“With Havens, we were all told, an epic collapse crushing all of the children inside was surely just ahead.”

Infact, the Division of the State Architect (DSA), the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC), and the State Allocation Board (SAB) all concurred in 2013 that the most appropriate word to describe the collapse hazard posed by two kindergarten wings (that actually housed over fifty percent of the Havens student population) was, in fact, catastrophic. Not “epic.” Not “shenanigans.” Not “fear mongering.” Not “a slow and painful death ‘neath the rubble of the collapsed one-story, wood framed building as it came down in apocalyptic fury!” (to quote E Boyer’s blog). No, the word they all agreed upon to describe the collapse hazard at Havens was “catastrophic.” Furthermore, the SAB identified these very same wings as an example of the “Most Vulnerable Category 2 Building…determined by the department to pose an unacceptable risk of injury to its occupants in the event of a seismic event.”

The SAB was definitive in its corroboration of engineering reports calculating “the building’s structural system [as] greatly overstressed and likely to fail.” The risk of injury associated with the Havens wings, according to every agency involved with public school construction in the State of California, was deemed to be unacceptable. Not just an unacceptable risk of injury for children, but an unacceptable risk for everyone: children, teachers, staff, parents, volunteers, visitors, and satirists.

But wait, there’s more. The kindergarten wings at Havens were designed by a prominent architecture firm in the 1950’s, and were replicated many times over throughout California. In other words, these same hazardous buildings exist today in other school districts. Prior to 2012 (two years after Havens was rebuilt), the Division of the State Architect refused to publicly acknowledge the tension rod-bracing system found in these type of buildings is insufficient to withstand a significant earthquake. What changed DSA’s mind? Piedmonters.

Two years after Havens was rebuilt, Piedmonters testified in statewide hearings before Senator Ellen Corbett to address lax oversight of seismic inspections, safety certifications, and restrictive funding rules. Two years after Havens was rebuilt, Piedmonters worked with Senator Loni Hancock to assist other school districts in breaking through draconian restrictions defining seismic vulnerability, amending Proposition 1D as originally written into law in 2006.

My purpose in sharing this is twofold: first, that no matter how inconvenient the truth, the removal of students, teachers, and staff (and the subsequent demolition of the Havens wings) was essential to the safety of its occupants; second, to offer thanks to so many in this community for their willingness to think (and act) beyond the borders of Piedmont.

Through the efforts of Piedmont residents in their roles as school board members, architects, structural engineers, financial advisors, construction law attorneys, accountants, designers, builders, Citizens’ Oversight Committee members, and community activists, there have been profound changes at the State level in assessing and addressing seismic safety in public schools.

If working with conscientious Piedmont residents for the betterment of all children in California (you can add SB1404 and “Educate Our State” to the list of Piedmonter-led initiatives – just to name two) is what defines being a jackass, I am all for it. Call me a jackass. Seriously. I’m not just kidding.

Michael Brady, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for the Piedmont Unified School District

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.  Comments are welcomed below.

One Response to “OPINION: Havens Faced a Catastrophe”

  1. In my life I have learned to make decisions based on hope rather than fear.

    One should expect politicians to behave as politicians. In listening to the recorded Board deliberations on Measure H going back to 2012, I was not surprised by the Board members’ reasoning. Only two out of five clearly thought in terms of the best interest of our students.

    One would expect superintendents to stay out of politics. Now, I understand the awkward/difficult position that a (assistant) superintendent finds himself/herself when somebody screams to all Piedmonters that the sky is falling and it will hurt our children.

    Mr. Larry Tramutola, the Piedmonter specialized in political campaigns (, who has volunteered his time to help the City and District and most likely is running the current “yes on H” campaign, understands that it is difficult for a Piedmonter to be against better accessibility and safety. His campaign appeals to Piedmonters to join the tribe. Who wants to be against the School, our Children, disabled people, and safety?

    In High Tech, all employees are encouraged to “eat their own dog food”, that is to use the company’s products and to evangelize the product and corporate marketing messages. This is good practice, but can be dangerous as it may prevent the enterprise to detect that their demise is coming at full speed: Microsoft and the web, SAP / Oracle and the Cloud, …

    The fact is that the current plan for the AHT renovation is flawed. This is not because the selected architect is incompetent. It is because he was directed to implement the Becker vision and prevented from expanding it (as documented in a Board meeting when an architect was eliminated from the contest because he suggested elevating the roof to build a balcony). Why use an architect as a draftsman?

    It is common for a given math problem to stay unsolved after many weeks of efforts by well intended people, and to be solved by one student in 10 minutes.

    Scare tactics distort the public debate, undermine trust, and take Piedmonters for granted.

    Vote No on Measure H. Push the Pause button.

    Bernard Pech
    PS: I am sure that the opinions of the DSA, OPSC, and SPA are well documented in writing, and I am surprised that these documents have not been published before. If they exit, please publish them on this site.

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