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  Media Coverage
  Richmond Sets Schedule for its Seismic Repairs
January 20, 2005


With its top executive pushing to get the city out of its costly rental quarters and into its own buildings, Richmond has scheduled a spate of seismic overhauls, including the Barrett Avenue civic center, to be paid for with use-it-or-lose-it state grants.

Interim City Manager Phil Batchelor has divided the work into four stages. The projects range from basic upgrades at fire stations to the restoration of City Hall.

The tab: $10 million.

"We looked at the ones that were of highest concern and (chose to)_ do those immediately," Batchelor said.

Construction is slated to begin this summer.

Funding sources include a $1.6 million state bond grant. The city used $500,000 of that to shore up its dispatch center.

But funds could become more plentiful if the city's bond ratings perk up. Moody's Investors Services has upped Richmond's bond rating four notches, and Standard & Poor's will decide whether to follow suit by next week.

"When S&P's gives us an investment-grade rating, that will free up a lot of money," Batchelor said.

Ratings measure the level of risk investors assume in buying bonds issued by a company or government agency. The lower the bond rating, the higher the likelihood the issuing agency will default on repaying the bond costs.

Last spring, independent bond rating agencies lowered and suspended Richmond's bond ratings after the city discovered a staggering $35 million budget shortfall.

After an austere diet imposed by Batchelor to shrink the city's deficit, the cumulative budget deficit is now at zero.

"Grants come along all the time," said Councilman Tom Butt, an architect who steered Batchelor to consultants who had worked on retrofits for the University of California system and Los Angeles City Hall. "If you don't have a plan in place, you lose out."

After the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, the city conducted a series of technical studies to size up its buildings.

The San Andreas and Hayward-Rodgers Creek faults pose the most formidable earthquake threat to Northern California and Richmond in particular.

Yet there has been neither repair nor renovation of the city's 21 buildings identified as most desperately needing work.

In addition to its presumed feebleness to withstand an earthquake, the Barrett Avenue City Hall is plagued with mold infestations from frequent basement flooding, and is riddled with asbestos.

The city has already undertaken upgrades of some buildings, including one not on the seismic list.

The North Richmond Child Care Center, for instance, served 40 to 60 preschoolers each day in a building rife with mold, leaky windows, leaky roofs, busted toilets, broken drinking fountains and a spate of electrical and plumbing problems.

"When it was discovered that there were little children in these deplorable conditions, it was agreed that something needed to be done immediately," Batchelor said in a recent assessment of the city.

He lauded city workers for donating their time to repair the center.

The upgraded facility will reopen this month.

Reach Rebecca Rosen Lum at 510-262-2713 or rrosenlum@cctimes.com