In the News

May 24

Alameda district to decide fate of quake-threatened schoolSchool officials and a group of distressed parents in Alameda agree that if a big earthquake strikes, the saturated ground under Lum Elementary School would likely become unstable, a process known as liquefaction that could cause classrooms to sink and come apart. District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge, on the advice of two structural engineering firms that studied the soil, recommended closing Lum at the end of the school year and moving students to several other city schools. Some parents, though, responded by gathering their own expert advice and mounting a campaign to keep the school open next year, allowing time for the district to further explore the problem and possible solutions. The school consists of single-story buildings, with groups of classrooms, or pods, circling a common area. Based on soil samples, the project’s engineer determined that in the event of a catastrophic 100-year quake — one with a probability of 1 percent in any given year — the buildings could sink up to 5 inches, potentially collapsing or partially collapsing. The parents gathered their own evidence, including opinions from engineers and other experts who said the issue needs further study to determine whether school structures would be at risk and, if they are, what options are available to shore them up. [...] the focus, she said, is student and staff safety in the face of potential building collapse. Parent Deb Balot, whose daughter is a Lum first-grader, said the district is moving too quickly to close a school that has sat on the same soil since the 1950s — and has seen its share of earthquakes without buckling. Balot and other parents fear that moving students will remove the incentive for the district to improve and reopen the school. “As a district we have a legal, moral, and professional obligation to protect the lives and safety of our students and staff,” McPhetridge said.

  • Peter Hegarty
  • PUBLISHED: May 23, 2017 at 10:59 pm | UPDATED: May 24, 2017 at 9:39 am

Three weeks ago, the Alameda Unified School District notified parents of children who attend Donald D. Lum Elementary School that it would recommend that the school board permanently close Lum on June 8. The reason is liquefaction, the weakening of soil due to water saturation that can cause buildings to collapse in earthquakes.

It’s a revelation that has parents worried. But they’re also skeptical, questioning why the district is moving so fast to close the school. They’re demanding more tests and want to know if the problem is fixable. (Read More)

Parents and teachers at Donald Lum Elementary School have launched a full-on counter-offensive in response to the school district’s proposal to close the facility in the name of earthquake safety. (Read More)

May 16, 2017

The events concerning Lum Elementary School are very upsetting to me. Although no child of mine is involved, I can imagine how shocked I would be if suddenly informed that my children’s school was being closed. (Read More)

May 15, 2017

ALAMEDA - A Bay Area fire captain who teaches search and rescue classes, and lives in Alameda, is the latest to challenge a district recommendation to close Lum Elementary School - suggesting that the 58-year-old school may in fact be well-suited to handle a big earthquake. (Read More)

May 10, 2017

ALAMEDA — Members of the Alameda Unified School District board had plenty to consider Tuesday night as supporters of Lum Elementary School argued against a plan to close the school this year and district staff outlined possible scenarios for relocating its students.

Dressed in red, the school’s colors, parents crowded the Alameda City Council chambers to let their voices be heard. At one point, admission to the room was controlled by a member of the Alameda Fire Department to prevent the crowd from exceeding safety standards.



Kelly Scott: 510-384-2063, e-mail:

Joe Keiser: 415-342-5394, e-mail:

Engineers question Lum closure plan; committee seeks more time

ALAMEDA - A recommendation by Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) administrators to close Lum Elementary School was made based on insufficient and incomplete information, and could irreparably harm students and local taxpayers, a newly formed advisory committee has found.

The Lum District Advisory Committee (DAC) formed last week, just days after AUSD Superintendent Sean McPhetridge told Lum parents and staff the school could be at risk during a 100-year earthquake. McPhetridge recommended the school close this year, based on the report of an engineer paid for by the district.

Conclusions in the one-page report were questioned by structural engineers inside and out of the Lum School community. Those engineers say additional testing should be done before the District closes the school. AUSD officials have not adequately responded to simple questions about the report’s inadequacies, forcing a community group with limited resources, no funding and a rushed timeline to research on their own.

The DAC will present to the Board of Education, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, at Alameda City Hall.

“All sides agree that our children’s safety is the most important thing,” said Joe Keiser, a local attorney, Lum parent and member of the Lum District Advisory Committee. “But the district’s report quickly falls apart under scrutiny. Worse yet, they have been unable to account for huge holes in their report, forcing shocked parents to scramble for answers on their behalf.”

Lum DAC member and PTA President Kelly Scott said, “We should be at the very beginning of this process, not the end. Lum School needs more time and the entire community deserves answers, before the district abandons and possibly demolishes a school that may not be a critical danger at all - or that could be fixed, according to engineers.”

Lum School, located at 1801 Sandcreek Way, is a California Distinguished School that opened in 1959, serving an economically and racially diverse population of 500 students, from transitional kindergarten to 5th grade. The one-story school has suffered no serious earthquake damage in its 58 years.

The Lum DAC includes two engineers among the founding members, and has been advised by a retired City Engineer and Chief Building Official for the City of Oakland, a Lum neighbor who came forward on his own after seeing problems with the District’s report. A Berkeley engineering firm that reviewed the District’s report asserted that Lum does not appear to be a lost cause, suggesting “a more constructive approach be fully developed before closing the school.”

Copies of engineering reports, testimonies and the Lum DAC’s planned arguments before the Board of Education are available at Members of the Lum DAC, engineers and Lum parents and staff are available for comment.

Thu, May 4

May 3, 2017

Editor’s note: After hearing public input, the school board has delayed the vote on closing Lum until May 23.

As a parent of two Lum Elementary School students I am shocked how quickly the Alameda school district decided to recommend to close the school.

And as an engineer, I am baffled by how little factual data they used to reach their conclusion. For example, the decision appears to rely not on the actual soil testing report but instead on a part of one sentence in an single-page opinion letter written by a consulting company (ZFA) in which they write:

“ … However at these levels the buildings will sustain more damage than they would otherwise be expected to during a large seismic event including partial building collapse and inoperable doors, thus severely limiting emergency exiting from the buildings.”