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AIACC Responds to DSA Issues

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The AIACC responds to recent issues regarding the Division of the State Architect (DSA) and the growing number of public schools that are being occupied without the documentation the DSA uses to determine a constructed project complies with the codes and regulations governing school construction, attesting to their safety.

The members of the American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC), are deeply committed to public safety and to the design and construction of schools that are safe for children and teachers, and can withstand an earthquake; we should expect no less. However, a growing number of public schools are being occupied without the closeout process documentation the Division of the State Architect (DSA) uses to determine that a constructed project complies with the codes and regulations governing school construction – attesting to their safety. While this is serious, it should not surprise anyone involved in meeting the demands of California’s public school construction process. Beginning in the late 1980’s, meeting the unprecedented demand for schools was greatly complicated by the 90’s recession and the consequences the recession had on the DSA’s resources. The economy improved; however, the DSA still faced hiring freezes, an inability to authorize overtime, furloughs, and other Governor’s Executive Orders further reducing and reallocating staff resources. Before long, demand for new schools and more classrooms quickly outpaced needed regulatory resources. The impact on DSA’s workload was not adequately anticipated (at the height of the demand, there was a reported average of one new K-12 school being occupied every day). Consequently, the inventory of non-certified, occupied schools expanded as the growing demand for plan review assumed priority.

For several months, reducing the inventory of uncertified projects and improving the certification process has been the subject of collaborative efforts by a number of individuals and organizations, including DSA and the architectural profession. While the lack of certification does not immediately translate into unsafe buildings or students being at risk, uncertified buildings should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that the lack of appropriate project documentation is not masking something more serious. It is important to note that although a building may be deemed uncertified, it was constructed using plans that were designed by licensed professionals, and were approved by the DSA plan check process.

The Field Act has long demonstrated its contributions to safeguarding essential service buildings and California schools. However, times have changed; design and construction methods, and materials have changed as well. The architectural profession is committed to working with the DSA and other stakeholders in response to the changes in project delivery, innovations in student education, and the development of facilities that educate emerging generations.

The lull in the economy provides a timely opportunity to thoroughly review the rules, regulations, and entitlement procedures that govern the design and construction of California school facilities. It also provides a window of opportunity to reorganize and revitalize the leadership and charter of the DSA in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Therefore, the AIACC recently published a policy paper, Maximizing California’s Resources: Recommendations for a Stronger Design and Construction Industry.” This paper discusses the role of design and construction as a critical economic engine in California and describes how a repurposed California State Architect, and supporting DSA, can provide the needed vision and leadership necessary for a preferred future for California and its citizens.

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