By Alfredo Santana
LYNWOOD — An engineering firm hired by the Lynwood Unified School District to study the safety of structures at Lynwood High School concluded that many facilities are so “poorly built” that they put people at risk due to the original shoddy construction.
Following the collapse of large outdoor ceilings at the G-building last summer, the firm Petra Structure Engineers documented the findings after the district canceled in-person classes, and ruled the facilities unsafe Jan. 24 “out of an abundance of caution,” for students and staff.
Meanwhile, the financial toll stemming from the crumbled soffits continued to swell at the tune of $305,000. The latter is in addition to $1.13 million the district already approved to discard trash and remove remaining panels attached to hidden retainers across campus.
The investigation and discovery of the lax structural buildings took place after entire segments of soffits, or ceiling panels deficiently riveted to aluminum brackets, fell to the ground on June 16, 2020, damaging two parked cars, but sparing injuries as the school was in the midst of a COVID-19 triggered closure.
“Further investigation of Lynwood High School buildings revealed extensive construction issues that extend beyond those initially discovered, with egregious construction defects that threaten the basic structural integrity of the buildings,” the school district said in a statement released on April 20.
In addition to the weak soffits and doctored metal retainers, the report blames the contractor who built the G-building for taking short cuts on approved plans and specifications. Petra Structures Engineers found that only three out of 49 sites on campus “were in compliance with approved documents.”
The engineering firm reported that screws were attached in only one side of metal studs, not on both as required; metal studs were attached to a metal deck with shot-pins, a practice banned by the Division of the State Architect, which regulates school construction; and exposed wires were followed by torn electrical conduits.
Additional building short cuts included lack of required seismic bracing; glued concrete to a metal frame in place of being bolted with screws as required; and plywood decking used at overlapping archways instead of nonflammable metal decking.
The structural integrity analysis cost Lynwood Unified $30,000.
District Superintendent Gudiel Crosthwaite said he would hold responsible parties accountable for the structural flaws, even though it took 20 years since the last construction work was completed at the campus in 2000 to discover the unsafe works.
The district broke ground on the new high school campus in 1994 following a protracted legal battle with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the previous site owner that initially refused to sell the property. The school opened in 1998, after an investment cost of $98.4 million. The G-building was completed two years later.
Crosthwaite said the district is evaluating the potential liability of all parties involved in the design, construction and inspection of the campus and considering all of its options in seeking to address the defects that were discovered though the engineering review.
“The district is committed to maintaining its financial viability by seeking compensation from those parties responsible,” Crosthwaite said.
At its April 22 meeting, the Lynwood school board authorized an additional expense of $10,600 for the construction firm Jacobus and Yuang to “offset the cost of the plaster removal and replacement” at the high school.
A report prepared by school staff indicated that cost increases stemmed from recently defective structures discovered, following structural and seismic inspections of the G-building’s three-story classrooms.
While repairs continue at the campus, located at 4050 E. Imperial Highway, the school district maneuvered to make Lynwood Middle School the replacement high school, and unfolded a fast-paced refurbishing plan of most of its facilities to host displaced students during the 2021-22 school year.
The district will shift students from Lynwood Middle School to Hostler and Cesar Chavez middle schools while Lynwood Middle School becomes the Lynwood High School campus again, as it was pre-1998.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that Lynwood High enrolled 2,137 students during the 2019-20 school year.
The school board also awarded SVA Architects a $9,100 contract to make plans and design the upgrade of restrooms at Lynwood Middle School’s gymnasium in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, while another job worth $19,500 was issued to ADM Architects to ready paperwork for a new high school marquee.
Also, JER Engineering landed a $3,700 contract for running a topographic survey to study the feasibility of the south end of campus for installing emergency classrooms, “a landscape architect for the new quad,” and a parking lot before returning to in-person classes this fall.
Fire alarms will be replaced at Lynwood Middle School, in addition to a stand-alone system to be installed at the athletic fields by Westberg White Architects for $2,400. According to a board report, the district learned in December 2017 that an extension of the school’s fire alarm system could not be made to the athletic facilities without incurring steep costs.
Additional expenses to ready the old middle school include an inspection certified by the Division of the State Architect conducted by Sandy Pringle Associates for $16,170 for the fire alarm installation, and a fee for $12,250 to SVA Architects for leveling the asphalt surface between existing portable classrooms and five more emergency rooms for special education activities.
The latter is expected to address water runoffs and let people with disabilities travel level pathways from one portable classroom to another.
Previously, at a March 25 meeting, the board approved a $166,877 contract with TMP Services to upgrade infrastructure for people with disabilities at 23 portable classrooms already built at Lynwood Middle School, and $211,010 for SVA Architects to cobble a master plan designed to convert Lynwood Middle School into Lynwood High School.
Also, the district entered into an agreement with ADM Architects worth $21,200 for document preparation for construction of five more portable classrooms to upgrade Cesar Chavez Middle School.
All the projected improvements would be covered with funds from Measure N, a $65 million facilities bond program approved by local voters in November 2016 to be used for repair, upgrades and renovations of structures in schools to be in compliance with federal and state laws requiring accessible schools, plus safety infrastructure and comfortable settings.
On Feb. 11, the school board authorized Crosthwaite to execute contracts and address emergency repairs and replacement of facilities to speed a transition from the Lynwood High campus to the Lynwood Middle School, with a condition cited in Public Contract Section 22050 that he must explain to the board of education the hiring of any service provider absent of a procedural bid.
Physical education activities are currently conducted in the high schools, as the gymnasium and the library were the two facilities previously ruled safe.
However, filing a lawsuit against negligent contractors may not be easy due to statutory limits in California. State law prevents suits on defective construction discovered 10 years after construction, with possible exceptions to deliberate cost cutting or reckless failure to supervise the work.
“The board of education believes that the Lynwood High School construction issues fall within the narrow exception in California law and the district is continuing to investigate and evaluate the issue,” school board President Maria Lopez said
The district has not released the name of the contractors hired to install the soffits and other structural hinges rendered defective.
Alfredo Santana is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Southeast Los Angeles County area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.