Investigation into FUSD’s Infrastructure

Recent Pipeline Burst and Prolonged Power Outage Indicates Infrastructure Issues within FUSD schools


Annika Yong

Irvington students and teachers used unique, creative approaches to continue school throughout the prolonged blackout.

Isha Sanghvi, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, Sept. 27, in the middle of Flex tutorial, the power went out at Irvington High School. In addition to Irvington, schools across the Irvington District including Robertson High School, Grimmer Elementary, and Harvey Green Elementary, all experienced the power outage due to a car collision with a PG&E utility pole. By noon, power was restored at all schools except Irvington. While some students rejoiced, to everyone’s surprise, the outage lasted until Monday, Oct. 8th due to the failure of a 60-year-old lead wire.

Little under a month later, at Mission San Jose High School on Oct. 25, a major 6-inch water pipe near the girls’ locker room responsible for the entire school’s water supply burst. According to Mission San Jose’s school newspaper, The Smoke Signal, the 55-year-old pipe’s cement-like composition made it difficult for contractors to operate on due to the fear of the pipe completely geysering and shutting the school down. According to MSJHS Principal Zack Larsen, other pipes on campus have a similar material composition, making it vulnerable to deterioration, decay, and impending tree roots.

A majority of the schools within the district were constructed around the same time in the late twentieth century from the 1960 to 1980’s. Because the age of infrastructure is related to the age of the respective school site, the district believes the recent strings of failures are caused by the old age of the infrastructure as according to Brian Killgore, Public Information Officer.

In light of a suspected trend in infrastructure issues, district staff intends to perform an evaluation of the severity of the situation and then develop a plan to repair or coordinate repairs that have the least impact on students and staff.

“While they [Fremont Unified School District] were doing their work, they extensively [looked at] the infrastructure and made other smaller repairs as needed,” said Irvington Principal Amanda Melsby. “Based on what they did, they felt that they had resolved the issues.”

Additionally, the district has identified plumbing as a special focus and placed it on the Long Range Facilities Plan, an assessment of current building conditions and analysis of potential new construction sites to fix weaknesses.

“The development of the LRFP included evaluation of site plumbing as part of the approximately $1.6 billion in identified needs,” said Killgore. “Only one-third of this identified need is being funded by Measure E, the $650 million general obligation passed by Fremont voters on June 3, 2014 to modernize neighborhood schools Underground pipes may or may not be included on priority project lists, as there is not sufficient funding to address all needs at one time.”

These string of infrastructure issues also bring up the question of increased costs sustained by the district. Due to the power outage at Irvington, the district was invoiced 131,062 dollars for the repairs, including the rental cost of generators which provided temporary power. The cost is estimated to reach $250,000 as there may be additional charges that have yet to be invoiced. The district has opened a claim with its insurer and has reached out to PG&E to make a determination of responsibility for this incident.  Depending on the outcome of the investigation, FUSD may seek reimbursement from PG&E.

According to Mission San Jose’s Smoke Signal, the cost of excavating, removing, and replacing the damaged pipe at Mission San Jose was around $5,000 to be paid by the general fund. In addition to the general fund, there is also a Routine Restricted Maintenance Fund, which accounts for 3 percent of the general fund. The RRMA is a restricted account within the district’s general fund for the exclusive purpose of providing money for ongoing and major maintenance of school buildings.

While the old age of school infrastructure has implanted doubts for the future of Fremont schools, FUSD is taking actions to prevent these issues from reoccurring in the future. At Irvington and Mission specifically, the district has already been working to eliminate further problems with the electricity and water pipes, respectively. However, in order to bring the facilities’ up to the ideal condition, many more funds are needed, especially because the funding from Measure E is not enough to compensate for all the necessary updates.