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Survey comes a little late in building of Provo school

SHARE Survey comes a little late in building of Provo school

A geologic survey of the new Amelia Earhart Elementary School in southwest Provo wasn't done until the school was nearly built - violating a little known state education administrative code, state officials say.

The code says local school districts must certify that such surveys are done as part of the approval criteria of a proposed building site.Larry Newton, educational specialist for property tax for education and school facilities, said the decision to do the survey was up to the Provo School District. But district Superintendent Mike Jacobsen countered that Newton approves school plans.

"We normally don't go to the expense," Jacobsen said.

A historical review of a site is free of charge, said Gary Christensen of the Utah Geological Survey, but if trenching is necessary to determine geological hazards, the district usually has to hire that out. Christensen also confirmed that the code was violated.

Jacobsen said the survey wasn't done, but Newton uncovered a letter from Christensen that said it was done Jan. 22 - the same day the Utah Geological Survey did a study of a proposed school site on the other side of town in southeast Provo.

The latter survey, which included trenching, found evidence of an earthquake fault, which resulted in the district deciding against building a new elementary school on property west of Slate Canyon Road at about 1450 South. That site is in a fault rupture zone.

The survey at the Amelia Earhart site found no evidence of earthquake faults, but did find the possibility of liquefaction in a severe earthquake. An earlier soils report also found the potential for liquefaction, so the building was designed to deal with it, said architect Stephen Sandstrom.

The site was engineered by removing and replacing dirt about 5 feet deep and then building up the site another 5 feet.

"There's about 10 feet of engineered field underneath the building," said Sandstrom. The project was then shut down for six weeks to test for further compression of the soil. "It didn't move a sixteenth of an inch," he said. That extra soils engineering cost the district from $250,000 to $300,000 more, he added.

"The district should have had the geological inspection (on the Amelia Earhart property) before they bought the site. Sometimes they don't because they don't want to call attention to it," Newton said.

"It's a difficult process to get school boards to do that beforehand. Often they buy sites without knowing if they will actually put a school there. They have to get in the habit of doing it earlier in the process," he said.

While the education code was violated, it apparently has no teeth. Christensen said neither he nor school officials were aware of the code requiring surveys as part of the approval process until a Provo resident pointed it out to them about a year ago. "It's made a lot of additional work for us," he said.