Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, recently received the results of a geotechnical report that declared Oxford Elementary School a high safety hazard in the event of a natural disaster.
Brent Stephens, superintendent of the school district, released a statement Friday, detailing key findings of the report. The campus is built within the Keith Avenue landslide, which currently shifts at a rate of about one inch per year, depending on rain patterns. Should an earthquake occur in the area, the school could shift between two and 20 feet — a number that would be categorized as a high safety hazard, according to the statement. As parts of the neighborhood are also over the landslide, the risk of the area being isolated during a crisis is heightened, which could mean less access to medical or emergency assistance.
“The report provides more detail to risks that have been well-known about the Berkeley hills, and about the Keith Avenue landslide,” BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott said in an email.
The report was originally commissioned as a required portion of the planned modernization of Oxford Elementary according to the statement. Alan Kropp & Associates of Berkeley, the geotechnical engineering firm that assesses conditions at the school, believes earthquake damage could put the school at significant risk.
Even with significant development to the area, such as placing the school on a mat foundation to provide increased stability during an emergency, it is likely that the school would need to be rebuilt after a landslide or natural emergency.
“Because our primary job is to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff, we are concerned,” McDermott said in the email. “We plan to work through this process in stages, one step at a time. … BUSD is committed to transparency with the community.”
As of press time, BUSD has not announced how it plans to remedy the issue. According to McDermott, however, the school district will work through the process in several stages. BUSD is currently in the first stage, sharing the report with the public and the school community. An informational meeting is scheduled for Oxford Elementary parents and neighbors Oct. 15.
After the meeting, the school district is considering temporarily housing the school at an alternate location for the 2020-21 academic year. In the last stage, BUSD will look toward long-term solutions for Oxford Elementary, which may include heavy reconstruction or its closing.
Despite the report, Stephens remains hopeful.
“For the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, my current thinking is that the Oxford community will remain in place,” Stephens said in his statement. “The Oxford facility continues to comply with all state requirements for earthquake safety.”