Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Friday's SoCal quake releases asbestos particles, temporarily closing elementary school

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School district officials in LA and Orange counties are getting a clearer picture on Monday of the damage from Friday’s 5.1 earthquake.

“As soon as the earthquake occurred we jumped into action and had to do an assessment of our facilities because the epicenter of the quake was relatively close to us,” said Brea-Olinda Superintendent Skip Roland.

His district is the only one so far that’s had to close a school because of quake damage. The quake brought down light fixtures, ceiling tiles, and dust at Fanning Elementary School. Study of that dust, Roland said, revealed asbestos particles dating back to the building's 1971 construction.

Most of Fanning's students will attend a neighboring school for at least one week while the asbestos is cleaned up.

Immediately after the Friday night quake, L.A. Unified officials turned to a US Geological Survey web-based program called ShakeCast to  estimate the impact on the district’s nearly 900 schools.

“It lists all of our schools and the amount of force that was registered at each one, and the likelihood of damage,” said LA Unified’s director of Maintenance and Operations Roger Finstad.

Several schools in South Gate and Cudahy were at the top of the list. Inspections by structural engineers on Monday revealed quarter-inch cracks in two concrete columns at Tweedy Elementary School and a cosmetic crack on a wall at Elizabeth Learning Center.

Stringent building codes for school structures, Finstad said, make them some of the safest places to be in during earthquakes.

He said he uses every quake as a learning experience to improve his department’s preparedness.

“This being on a weekend, we needed to improve our communication process a little bit, just because it’s a little harder to reach people when they’re at home on the weekend and get them into action."