Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/07/2011 04:58:51 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO — Sticker shock and aftershocks.

In retrofitting City Hall for earthquakes, officials will need to deal with both.

It may cost up to $30 million to retrofit the 40-year-old building at 300 N. D St., according to Public Works Director Nadeem Majaj, who says the issue was one of the first brought to his attention when he took the job nearly a year ago.

“The Public Works (Department) was informed that there have been studies conducted which determined that the building needs to be retrofitted for an earthquake,” Majaj said.

Indeed, a 2007 report by engineering consultant URS Corp. concluded that the seven-story building, which houses about 400 workers in 115,000 square feet of office space, is due for a safety makeover.

“The building was determined by our project structural engineers to be structurally deficient and its non-ductile characteristics may lead to a probability of extensive structural damage and life-safety hazard during a major seismic event,” the report said.

Civil engineers say non-ductile concrete buildings are extremely susceptible to earthquake damage because they employ rigid concrete frames that don’t flex when the ground begins to shake.

But a city that doesn’t have enough money to keep all the street lights on may have a hard time finding the cash to conduct the initial studies needed to see what it will take to retrofit the structure.

“We haven’t been able to identify a source of funding,” Majaj said. “Once we identify funding, I would think (it would cost) upward from $50,000 to $100,000 to do an adequate study.”

According to Majaj, the building faces two issues that make it susceptible to earthquake damage.

The first is whether it has the structural capacity to withstand lateral seismic activity during a high-magnitude earthquake.

The columns on which City Hall stands dig deep below the basement, Majaj said.

“If it flexes, will the columns break? That’s what we need to study,” Majaj said.

Experts say seismology studies have vastly improved in the last 40 years. When you factor in that design codes have been modified to a stricter level, cities are wise to take a second look at their older structures, they say.

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