SMC's building standards outdated
SMC students sit in their classrooms everyday with the basic trust that the buildings are safe and following the applicable codes. While most buildings are in fact following set guidelines, some are lurking in a grey area. Director of Facilities and Planning Greg Brown said, "All of the buildings on campus are built to the highest possible standards. Newer buildings of course use newer technology than the older buildings, but all the buildings on campus are built to the basic standards that were in effect when they were built."
The main controversies lie in the fact that the older buildings on campus might be allowed certain exceptions due to their age, but they don't always ensure safety or even convenience.
For instance, the American Disabilities Act of 1992 lays out specific guidelines that all public facilities create accessibility for the disabled. But after nearly twenty years, SMC still lacks elevators in the Liberal Arts building and also in the Letters and Science building.
"They are part of a transition plan we've had since 1995," says ADA/504 Compliance Officer Sandi Burnett. "We have known that we've wanted to upgrade those buildings but the Master Plan of the college has changed many times."
Those two buildings alone restrict those with mobility problems to the first floors only, prohibiting them access to sixteen classrooms. There are also several classrooms off-limits in the Airport Arts Campus as well as restrooms in the ESL building where only staff restrooms provide handicap accessibility.
According to Brown, there is currently a measure in place to destruct both the Liberal Arts and the Letters & Sciences buildings. A math and science complex is said to replace them but this process will likely not begin for another three years.
In the meantime, physically disabled students cannot access the second floors. But Burnett assures the classes on those floors are always offered at another location on campus.
As can be expected, certain drawbacks do arise with these limitations, in which case the school is prepared. "We will always move a class to an accessible location if we know there is a problem," says Burnett.
The buildings' lack of elevators is the first priority, but there is a list of other concerns that SMC staff hopes to address. "We'd love to have a second elevator in Drescher Hall. It's too big a building to be dependent with three floors on one elevator that might break down," says Burnett.
"I would love in my lifetime to see this list of things go away," she says.
SMC estimates there are over 1300 disabled students that enroll each semester. Burnett says that the exact number of students with mobility problems cannot be estimated though.
Equally surprising is that asbestos is present in a multitude of buildings on campus. While a number of asbestos removal projects have occurred, SMC still houses a great deal of the unhealthy material.
"Most all of our buildings, except for the ones built in the last five to ten years, have some amount of asbestos in them," said Director of Maintenance Jeff Gehring.
According to Gehring, the asbestos can be found in crawl spaces, walls, floors, and ceilings. Also, in the Liberal Arts and Letters & Sciences buildings, when carpeting is placed over the floor tiles the glue contains asbestos.
"There is no acceptable amount when you're talking about asbestos exposure. There really isn't. One percent is actually the limit but nothing is dangerous as far as for the students," he said.
"The hazard comes with my staff. We don't expect a student to be cutting windows out of a building. You would have to be vandalizing," said Gehring.
Records are kept about which areas are "hot" or test positive for asbestos. "Before anyone goes in there, we let them know where to be careful," he said.
After the 1994 earthquake, much of the asbestos was in fact disturbed. Still, Gehring isn't worried about asbestos exposure from a natural disaster.
"If there's an earthquake of that magnitude, that's probably the least of our concerns," he said.
In a 2008 press release issued by the school regarding the Student Services building, it stated: "Most of the current facilities are not connected to a centrally monitored fire alarm system and lack fire sprinklers, and most have interior hallways and doorways that do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. "
While Brown assures all the buildings are currently connected to a central monitored fire alarm system, the PE locker rooms still lack fire sprinklers.
"Those aren't really the important reasons that we're doing the building," says Brown. "The really important reasons are to consolidate student services from many, many locations scattered all around campus to one centralized location where we'll be able to give students better service."
The Department of General Services does now require fire sprinklers in California community colleges. But Brown says, "The requirement for fire sprinklers in every school is fairly new so older buildings do not have sprinklers."
The PE locker rooms' building will likely be replaced in the next 18 months. A new Health, PE, Fitness, and Dance building will replace it.
"All of the buildings still have a fire alarm and the fire department would respond," said Brown.
In the state of California, an earthquake is nearly as likely as a fire. Again, Brown states that the buildings comply with earthquake safety regulations.
"All of the buildings are checked by the Division of State Architect. The buildings on this campus are built to the same standards that K-12 schools are," he said.
The school participated in the statewide earthquake drill on Oct. 21. The SMC Police Department failed to respond when asked to provide information on the October drill and other issues pertaining to this article.