After the 1989 earthquake, the City and County of San Francisco started passing laws to make buildings safer in the event of another major earthquake. Retrofitting of public buildings such as City Hall, public libraries and public schools was just recently completed. Churches were retrofitted twenty-something years ago, private residences with certain vulnerabilities were required to be retrofitted a few years back.
Last year Naomi Kelly approached me in the schoolyard and asked if I was going to attend any of the public meetings regarding retrofitting non-public schools. I had to admit I had no idea what she was talking about. I contacted the Superintendent of Schools and she had no idea either.
After the Archdiocese contacted the City and figured out what was going on, Bishop McElroy took over the negotiations with the City regarding pending legislation, Originally the City wanted every school to retrofit to the highest standard which would “guarantee” that everyone would get out of the building safely and the building would be ready to go the next morning even if it was hit by a Loma Prieta strength quake directly underneath it.
As every San Franciscan knows, an earthquake can level a house and leave the houses on both sides of it unharmed. So Bishop McElroy got the City to agree to retrofit each building to a slightly lower standard. This standard is to get everyone out alive but maybe the building will not be ready to go the next day. This change saved millions (if not tens of millions) of dollars. The City then agreed that no non-public school would be forced to retrofit at all, just survey the schools and identify all problem areas. This has been done already with the Archdiocese picking up a good share of the tab and Star of the Sea Parish being very generous as well.
A month ago the results of the engineering surveys were shared with all pastors and principals. Of the thirty-one Catholic schools in the City, twenty-one need about 1 to 2 million dollars in upgrades. The other ten got significantly larger estimates, and the Archdiocese feels that we are morally compelled to retrofit all of our schools.
Star of the Sea School is one of the older school campuses in the City and we don’t have just one building like everyone else. We have the school, the preschool, the Academy (Laurel), and the gym. The preschool is exempt from all of this, but the other three buildings will need about 8.6 million dollars in retrofitting.
If we raise that much (and let’s be reasonable and round it up to ten million) we will have three old buildings retrofitted to the second highest current standard. But in practical terms there is just no way we can raise ten million dollars, that amount of cash just isn’t laying around.
The Archdiocese advised all pastors and principals to get four or five trusted advisors together. Fr Illo (Pastor), Fr Vito (Chaplain), Tracy Lee (finances), Tim McRitchie (been here since 1953 and he’s a contractor), Ryan Seebers (PR guy from SSFUSD and long time parishioner), Ron Lagman (long time parishioner and engineer), Eva Muntean and I met to discuss what steps to take next.
It was proposed that we look at what we do have instead of figure out how to raise ten million bucks. The parish plant has seven buildings including two full size schools. The Church and Rectory seem to be in good shape, but the schools and the gym now have identified areas that do not meet current codes. I believe the convent is in the same condition.
Several options for revamping the plant were discussed and in a later meeting with representatives from the Archdiocese Building Department, they looked favorably on these ideas. Previously, Archbishop Cordileone and Fr Piderit (his top advisor) had stated that they did not want to see any school close because of the need to retrofit, and that the Archdiocese could provide low cost loans and be willing to consider multi-use buildings.
So with the support of the Archbishop, his Building Department, the pastor, and the principal, we will be meeting with the Archdiocese again to ask them to put together a master plan for the plant at Star of the Sea. There are no guarantees, but I have a very positive feeling about this.
I have lost a lot of sleep over this not because I was thinking,” O no, what can we do?” but because I keep thinking, “O my, we can do this or this or this!”
The planning might take a few years and the work a few more years, but in the end, Star of the Sea School will have a new building built to the highest current standards. Currently, the two newest Catholic elementary school buildings in San Francisco are Saint John’s over in Glen Park (1967) and Saint Paul’s out in the Mission (1999). Since then, St Mary’s Cathedral was rebuilt, Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep was rebuilt, Saint Ignatius Prep was rebuilt, Holy Name Church was rebuilt, Archbishop Riordan High School has added new buildings, and the University of San Francisco has had several major additions to its campus. Rebuilding this campus will be a firm commitment to the families of San Francisco, particularly in this neighborhood, that Catholic Education will be here to serve them for the next century. It’s time to rebuild Star!
Please join us at the Parent Club meeting this Wednesday at 7:00 if you have any questions or comments.