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MWD staff urges seismic upgrade for HQ at cost of at least $20M

A staff memo says the Metropolitan Water District headquarters in downtown L.A. needs upgrades
A staff memo says the Metropolitan Water District headquarters in downtown L.A. needs upgrades "to reduce the risk of significant damage in the event of a major earthquake."
Karen Foshay/KPCC

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The staff of the Metropolitan Water District is urging its board of directors to approve a seismic upgrade of its headquarters building that could cost anywhere from $20 million to more than $90 million. The District board is scheduled to consider the recommendations at its meeting Tuesday. 

The District's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles needs significant upgrades to remain functional after a major earthquake, District General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger wrote in a memo to the board. 

"Although the Headquarters Building would perform well during a moderate seismic event, the building would experience significant damage during a major earthquake," Kightlinger wrote. "The building remains safe to occupy, but seismic strengthening to meet updated code levels would be prudent in order for operations and business functions to continue following a major earthquake."

Nineteen million people rely on water from the MWD, a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies in the region. Its headquarters building is a 12-story high-rise tower next to Union Station.

RELATED: Memo raises questions about MWD HQ's seismic fitness

The agency spent more than $100 million in taxpayer dollars constructing its headquarters, which opened in 1998. In 2008, District staff found sagging and cracking in several beams.

The latest report notes that a "detailed structural analysis" of the building found that it fails to meet more stringent building code requirements for "essential" facilities. Other essential facilities include hospitals and fire stations. The District headquarters is not required to meet these requirements, but Kightlinger said it should.

"The business functions located in this building are critical for maintaining the continuity of Metropolitan’s operations," he said in the memo. Kightlinger and District Chief Engineer Gordon Johnson recommend spending $20 to $25 million on "carbon fiber strengthening of structural elements such as beams and diaphragms," among other things.

At the same time, the two officials acknowledge the upgrades would fail to bring the building up to current code requirements for an essential facility. To do that, the District would need to spend more than $90 million, they wrote.

The memo warns performing no upgrades would mean that District headquarters would likely be out of commission for a "significant" period of time after a major quake. District officials say such a closure would not disrupt water deliveries.

This story was updated at 5:18 p.m. on May 12, 2014 to reflect District officials' belief that a closure of the building after a major quake would not disrupt water deliveries.