Largest building at American River College closed due to seismic safety concerns

American River College’s largest building was shut down indefinitely Friday after being deemed seismically unsound.

The building, Davies Hall, was constructed in 1967 and housed nearly a hundred offices and about 200 courses with an average of 30 to 35 students per class, according to Kaitlyn Collignon, a spokeswoman for ARC.

Classes that were in Davies Hall have been moved online for two weeks while school officials look for alternative locations. A college-wide announcement about the closure was Sept. 7, and students and staff moved belongings out that day, although campus officials say that they will continue assisting faculty in moving instructional materials and personal belongings from the building.

Officials will also work to locate space for the displaced teachers, but Collignon said that they’re “mostly focused on getting classes back on the grounds as soon as possible.”

This might mean using other classrooms that are empty during certain times of the day or temporarily converting other spaces. Collignon said that they may also bring in portable classrooms.

Davies Hall was built using lift slab construction, a method popular in the 1960s and ’70s that was approved by the Division of State Architects at the time.

DSA monitors and enforces compliance with building codes at public schools and community colleges in California. After two buildings built using lift slab construction experienced failure and collapsed during demolition on other California college campuses, they began to investigate the possibility of a similar collapse during an earthquake.

So far they’ve identified 90 other buildings throughout California that were built in this way, according to Collignon, but none of them are on the American River College or any other campus in the Los Rios Community College District.

Collignon also noted that not all buildings that use lift slab construction are unsafe; there are certain modifications that can be made to make them more stable, which is why although DSA first notified ARC of the potential risk in June 2022, they were told to hire an independent structural engineer to assess the facility more specifically before making any closure decisions.

The district secured a structural engineer later that month, and received confirmation that the building could be at risk on Aug. 15. Los Rios leadership met with the statewide head of DSA on Sept. 5 and made the final decision to close the building.

Collignon said that there haven’t been any failures in school or college buildings using this design, other than those that collapsed during demolition. But an FAQ page on the ARC website says that they still feel they “cannot in good conscience continue to allow employees and students to occupy this building given the safety risks in the unlikely event of an issue.”

The school district is in the process of determining the cost of retrofitting Davies Hall versus demolishing it and building a replacement facility, Collignon said.

The decision will likely not be solidified for at least a few months, and once the decision is made, either option is estimated to take multiple years to carry out to completion.