There is a term in business called FUD. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It is often used in marketing, to attack a competing idea by eliciting fear about what could happen if a competing idea happens. In hyper local terms you could describe City Council person Andy Beerman’s appearance on KPCW this morning as FUD when he said we need to keep a seat at the Mountain Accord because the alternative was to be eaten. OMG, I don’t want to be eaten, do you?
Earlier this week, Park City School District Master Planning Committee Chairperson Rory Murphy was presenting to a group of citizens about why the School District Committee felt we needed to tear down Treasure Mountain Junior High (TMJH). He brought up a new fact that I hadn’t heard before; he said that TMJH was built using unreinforced masonry. This means that during a significant earthquake the structure may collapse in on itself, leaving many children and teachers dead. For a description of this, see a hypothetical description from the Deseret News that describes what would happen if “the big one hits.”
Scary. For sure. One Park Rag commenter said, “‘unreinforced masonry’ YIKES. TMMS is a time bomb.” It sure sounds scary.
Yet, I always have a little bit of scepticism. Is “unreinforced masonry” being used by the School District as another, in a long line of reasons, for why TMJH should be torn down? What would it take for me to believe this was actually a concern based on fact and not FUD?
- The School District would need to provide a peer-reviewed cost of retrofitting TMJH to withstand earthquakes. People do this all the time and it is a solid alternative to tearing down a school and rebuilding it.
- I need to understand what the risk to each of our other schools are based on a 7.0 earthquake. Have the High School, Ecker Hill, McPolin, Trailside, Parley’s Park, and Jeremy Ranch all been built to be earthquake resistant? If not, shouldn’t we be working to tear them all down?
- Do cost estimates for building a new TMJH at Ecker Hill include making it earthquake resistant? Is that a requirement of the project? Will it include precast concrete, vibration control systems, steel plate wall systems, etc…. all of which have been shown to mitigate the impact of an earthquake?
If the answer to these the question is no, then “unreinforced masonry”, regardless of whether it’s a real problem, may just be being being used in a long line a reasons to convince the public to tear down a school built in 1983 and renovated more recently. The reasons I’ve heard for tearing it down include:
- Contaminated (some would call it killer) soil from the mining days
- Bad pipes
- Cursed School
- Hallways so tight that “someone is going to be hurt”
- Sewer backup
- … and now unreinforced masonry
Again, I don’t say this to make light of a potential issue. Yet, every time a new bomb is dropped, it makes it seem like all the previous bombs weren’t enough to scare the public. What I need to know to be convinced is that this issue is a big enough concern that it has been considered across all the schools in our district (present and future) and that they have estimated the price of a retrofit to the current school.
Until we get that, it seems a little bit like the District that Cried Wolf. It doesn’t mean that the wolf doesn’t eventually show up at the end of the story but it means that the public increasing discounts everything said (possibly to everyone’s detriment).