Construction at Charlotte Amalie High School has uncovered major structural deficiencies in buildings that threaten students and others with collapse during earthquakes.
The FEMA-funded hazard mitigation work at the school has revealed problems from foundations to roofs. But project manager Edmond Blaize of Caribbean Professional Consultants said he expects 85 percent to 90 percent of the work now under way at the school will be completed when classes start Aug. 25.
During a media walking tour of the construction site Monday, Blaize pointed out several buildings that lacked adequate foundations. This could result in walls collapsing during a temblor, Blaize said.
Crews have dug under the buildings and foundations are being poured. Many are already completed.
Most of the cement block buildings are being retrofitted with steel reinforcing rods – evidenced by large patches of cement where holes have been dug out and steel rebar secured inside and covered.
Many roofs have to be replaced because they don't meet building code requirements that were updated since the buildings went up. For example, Blaize said, some roof beams placed 48 inches apart must now be 24 inches apart. And many rafters do not meet new requirements either, he said.
Crews are putting in extra hours to ensure construction is completed before school starts. "The men here are working three to four extra hours a day and on Saturdays," Blaize said, but only when required to stay on schedule.
Blaize stressed the only work being done at the school is structural. None of the maintenance problems at CAHS, such as plumbing, are being addressed.
"The structural problems with these buildings are our biggest concern," Blaize said. "The building might not survive perfectly but people would survive because the walls won't fall down."
According to seismologists, the Virgin Islands are overdue for a major earthquake. CAHS and much of the public housing in Charlotte Amalie were not built with seismic activity in mind, Blaize said.
And earthquakes hit with no warning, he added, so the school could be full of students; in a hurricane, students are evacuated long before the storm arrives.
The Education Department has more than $3.2 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete mitigation work at CAHS. Another $150,000 from bond proceeds will be used to revamp the math and science labs, according to Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds, who arranged the media tour.
The music area and auditorium are the most structurally sound, Blaize said. However, the auditorium is having its windows anchored because "they always blow out in hurricanes."
Blaize is overseeing the five separate projects at the school, which include buildings A, B and C, which house the cafeteria and gymnasium; the vocational education complex; the auditorium and music room; the cottage, which houses the cosmetology classes; and the old Jefferson Annex where art and ceramics classes are held.
Four contractors are on the job: Lubin Roberts Construction, Mac Construction, Kenrick Thomas Construction and George and Benjamin Construction.
Other schools throughout the territory are being repaired under Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's declared state of emergency in the Education Department. Simmonds explained the emergency declaration gets paperwork moved along more quickly, but the trail from bidding to final contract signing remains the same. In fact, some contracts are still pending, she said, and some contractors are working under "conditional notices to proceed."
CAHS, one of the district's oldest schools, was built in the 1950s.