First Structure, Last Priority: Corsair Stadium not up to seismic code

According to a 2006 study conducted by John A. Martin & Associates, the Corsair Stadium has numerous structural flaws that leave the stands vulnerable to serious earthquake damage.

Two years later in 2008, SMC was granted the funding for renovations or replacement of the deteriorating stands through the passage of Bond Measure AA by voters for the Santa Monica Community College District. However, since being issued these funds, SMC has yet to repair any of the deficiencies facing the structure and has spent the allotted money on other facilities.

The study listed multiple non-compliant items that needed to be addressed if the stadium was to be repaired or renovated. The deficiencies laid out in the study show an increased risk of serious damage if an earthquake were to occur during an event where people were sitting in the stands, such as a football game or during graduation ceremonies.

Construction attorney Mark Stapke of Stapke Law LLC said, “The consequence is obviously that people in the stadium are at risk if an earthquake hits.”

According to the preliminary version of the Measure AA budget, the initial projected cost of completing the stadium project, when the college sought funds in 2008, was $11 million. With the passage of the bond measure, these funds were granted to SMC later that year.

However a bond project summary published on Jan. 20, 2016, states that so far only $35,299 has been spent on “renovation of Corsair Stadium” to date. As to why so little of the money has been used, Director of Facilities Planning at SMC Greg Brown said, “There weren’t any renovations done, that was probably just for some architectural planning.”

SMC received many comments from the public in response to the 2010 publication of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Corsair Stadium demolition and replacement project. The local Santa Monica community voiced displeasure in replacing the stadium, yet heavily favored repairing and renovating.

After this reaction to the stadium project, the SMC Board of Trustees issued this response: “SMC has investigated the option to repair, restore and upgrade Corsair Stadium and has found this option to be infeasible from both an economic and technical basis.“

“I find the fact that the bond issue specifically called for replacement of the stadium, and SMC – after getting the money it had asked for – made a decision not to spend the money that way, to be striking,” Stapke said.

With the Board of Trustees deciding to not “repair, restore or upgrade Corsair Stadium” with funds preliminarily allotted to the Corsair Stadium project, they were then free to use it for other projects that, as Brown said, “Meet the current priorities.”

“The first priorities are usually for any of the projects that deal with the academic programs,” said Brown. “General things like stadiums, playing fields and parking garages and things like that, have a lower overall priority.”

With the previously conducted study showing that Corsair Stadium is not up to seismic code, SMC has a potential health and safety issue that has been ignored. Even with knowledge of the 2006 seismic evaluation, Brown explained that the college is in no hurry to “rush the project because there is no immediate hazard that we know of with the building.”

However, Stapke disagrees. He said, “This is obviously unacceptable given the fact hundreds of people could be sitting there during an earthquake and plunge to likely injury if the supports were to fail.”

The US Geological Survey issued a press release on March 10 , 2015 which said, “The estimate for the likelihood that California will experience a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years has increased from about 4.7% for UCERF2 to about 7.0% for UCERF3.” This indicates that there was 50 percent increase from 2008 to 2015 in the chance of a catastrophic earthquake occurring in the near future.

Since constructing Corsair Stadium in 1948, the college has built, renovated, and rebuilt numerous buildings and structures. However, over that 68-year span, the stadium, which was the first permanent structure built on the Main Campus, has barely been touched. After the Los Angeles area was hit by its largest ever recorded earthquake — the 1994 Northridge earthquake — the stadium was damaged and repaired. According to Brown, “[The stadium] was brought up to the standards at the time of the repair.”

Even though the 2006 study by Martin & Associates highlights sections of Corsair Stadium that do not meet seismic life requirements, SMC does not necessarily have to do anything. “I am relatively certain that retrofitting would be required only if they did work requiring a permit,” Stapke said.

SMC might not be required to address the structural flaws of the stadium, but they may be walking a tight rope on student safety. At the same time, choosing the option to neither repair nor replace the current structure has allowed SMC the financial flexibility to spend the bond funds as they choose.

During the “Great Shake-Out” Earthquake Preparedness drill held last semester on Oct. 14, 2015, Bruce Wyban, Director of Facilities Management, said, “I’m not sure students have natural disasters on their radar.”

Neither, apparently, does the administration at SMC.