Citing concerns about earthquake safety, the West Contra Costa school district board is moving forward with a plan to relocate students at two seismically challenged middle schools.

The board unanimously agreed Wednesday to ask staff to compile detailed cost estimates, a timeline and other information on moving students who attend Portola Middle in El Cerrito and Adams Middle in Richmond to temporary campuses. Board member Charles Ramsey did not attend the meeting.

The decision came despite a recommendation from the board's facilities subcommittee — made up of Ramsey and member Antonio Medrano — that the full board table the issue until after it decides which schools to close to save money. Adams and Portola are both on a list of campuses targeted for potential closure, and one of the two likely will be shuttered in the next two years.

Medrano, who reversed his previous position Wednesday, said the board should move quickly.

"I want to move the students out as fast as we possibly can," Medrano said. "I'm concerned about the safety of the students."

Studies have determined that Adams "could experience significant and likely irreparable damage in a moderate earthquake," and "in a severe earthquake, with intense ground motion at the site, it is conceivable that these deficiencies will pose significant life safety hazards."

The Division of the State Architect has told district officials that the "safety of students is at risk and must be corrected" at Portola, where the campus — atop a steep hill at Navellier Street and Moeser Lane — rests on a landslide.


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Adams students would move into portables on the 15-acre campus at Patterson Circle at an estimated cost of $5.4 million, said Bill Savidge, district engineering manager.

Portola students either would relocate to portables set up on the lower pad of the two-tiered campus or would move to a ready-made temporary campus next to El Cerrito High School. ECHS students attended classes at the temporary campus during construction of their new school, which opened Jan. 5.

Placing portables at Portola would cost an estimated $3 million to $4.5 million, while moving students to the ECHS site would cost about $1 million and require an environmental impact review, Savidge said. While the ECHS option is cheaper, placing 650 middle school students at a site with more than 1,000 high school students next door likely would cause community uproar.

"We have heard significant concerns from the neighbors," Savidge said.

If the district spares Portola from closure, the school is scheduled to be rebuilt at the Castro Elementary site in El Cerrito using bond reconstruction money; Adams is not scheduled to be rebuilt.

Bond money would be used to pay for the temporary campuses. Moving forward with one or both relocation projects either would take money away from the Portola rebuild or another campus scheduled for rebuilding.

Board member Madeline Kronenberg suggested that the district first look at all the schools to determine whether they pose safety risks. Studies show that Pinole Valley High in Pinole, Washington Elementary in Point Richmond and Riverside Elementary in San Pablo also have seismic issues.

"I would like to see a study session on all our of our schools regarding the seismic and structural issues," Kronenberg said. "I'm really concerned that we have all the information before us before making a decision."

Staff will return to the board with additional information Feb. 11.

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at kwetzel@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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