After running a news story recently on the ENR California homepage about a just-released AIA California Council whitepaper that recommended “reinventing” the Division of the State Architect (DSA), major news broke last week about the agency’s lack of oversight given to seismic upgrade projects at more than 1,000 public schools.

According to several major newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee and the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch news site, the DSA, which by law is responsible for enforcing the 80-year-old Field Act requiring state oversight for school construction, failed in its mission by bureaucratic chaos and bogus inspections.

The Field Act was passed after a 1933 Long Beach earthquake flattened or damaged hundreds of school buildings locally. What boggles the mind is that since then it has been blind luck that a major earthquake has struck when children were not in school, which otherwise would mean potentially thousands of deaths.

Granted the state’s fiscal woes have meant that funding for many needed school upgrade projects is woefully inadequate, this recent coverage, based on documents released by the DSA, goes beyond the pale. Inadequate inspections, false reports, inept contractors and indifference all contributed to this current state of affairs. It’s ridiculous.

The AIACC, meanwhile, is urging the state to consolidate the its construction related functions under a single, efficient agency, and “embracing project delivery methods that increase project value, reduce waste and optimize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.” Over the years, with budget cuts and fragmentation of the state’s design and construction process, the DSA needs to refocus on “efficiency and effectiveness in the built environment.”

The council says that the whitepaper, titled “Maximizing California’s Resources: Recommendations for a Stronger Design and Construction Industry,” is intended to be a first-step toward assisting state government leaders in “addressing the myriad of issues regarding planning, design and construction affecting the quality of life for California’s citizens and its economy.”

What the whitepaper may not have revealed outright is the scary shape of our public schools and the indifference of a state agency charged with their seismic safety.