On September 26, 2009, Typhoon Ondoy brought about intense rains, flooding DLSU’s hallways and walkways, rendering students stranded on the 3rd floor of St. La Salle Hall. The nameless rain brought about by the southwest monsoon, which drenched Metro Manila in 472mm of rainfall over 22 hours, trapped students in the same predicament. Continuous heavy rains flooded DLSU’s campus and its surrounding areas, forcing students to take refuge in the Conservatory for several days as they waited for floods to subside around the campus and Taft Avenue.
DLSU’s campus has been in existence for 100 years. Starting from St. La Salle Hall’s completion in 1924, different buildings have been erected and retrofitted throughout the century to accommodate demands for campus expansion and development. Following St. La Salle Hall, St. Joseph Hall was completed in 1956, Miguel Hall on 1969, Velasco Hall on 1981; followed by Don Enrique T. Yuchengco Hall and Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall on 2002 and 2006, respectively. DLSU’s newest building, the Henry Sy Sr. Hall, has been undergoing construction since December 2010.
The intensifying weather conditions and Manila’s proneness to disaster bring up a concern: can DLSU’s buildings keep up with the stress on top of other natural calamities?
As defined, easement is a right to use the real property of another, mostly land, without having to own or possess it, but the Zoning office of the Manila City Hall also describe the term as to identify the distance between two adjacent buildings.
In the case of Br. Andrew Gonzalez FSC Hall and Gokongwei Hall, which are sandwiched in-between different commercial and condominium buildings, University stakeholders have raised several concerns regarding the ability of the campus buildings to withstand natural calamities especially earthquakes.
Paolo Aguas (II, AB-POM) thinks that Gokongwei Hall is poorly maintained. “If it was well-maintained, you wouldn’t see wood [ceiling panels] about to fall.” He cites dark, moldy, wet areas on the ceiling sidings of Gokongwei’s computer labs. Although Gokongwei Hall was constructed in the 1990s, Aguas laments, “it feels like I’m in a really old building.” Although he finds Andrew Hall safer than other buildings within DLSU, concerns were raised about its capacity to withstand a major earthquake. “I probably won’t feel safe in it, because it’s really high.” Aguas emphasizes on the building’s 21 floors.
Like Aguas, Kyle Chu (II, AB-DSM) discloses her insecurity about Andrew Hall for the same reasons, admitting she would only feel “a little” safe in the building during an earthquake. Chu feels that the campus’s various buildings are too close to one another. She stresses on Miguel Hall’s age and poor maintenance, and thinks that it would likely to crumble in a major earthquake. Miguel Hall, with its close proximity to Gokongwei, has a short walkway that directly connects to the building.
Engr. Edgar Gaspar, a former student of DLSU, shares that though buildings are built right next to each other, there is a space in between to allow for concrete expansion in warm temperatures as in the case of One Archer’s Place and Andrew Hall. Gaspar also mentions that if worse come to worst, especially during a high magnitude earthquake, Andrew Hall wouldn’t be in danger because it has fewer floors than One Archer’s. Since that is the case, it would be One Archer’s that would be at a disadvantage since it lacks an adjacent building to properly lean on, for its floors higher than Andrew Hall.
Engr. Romeo Estipona, one of the Annual Building Inspectors of the City of Manila, mentions that the city’s Building Code doesn’t really consider how close or how far adjacent structures should be built from each other. “For as long as the structure is built within the perimeter of the property, the construction gets a thumbs up,” he says.
Fortuitous events and more
The ability of any building to withstand natural calamities such as typhoons and earthquakes should be paramount over structural aesthetics and exterior design, given that the country is geographically prone to such occurrences.
Heavy rains have recently caused not only flooding along Taft Avenue, but some minor mishaps in the campus as well, such as leaks from ceilings and destroyed gutters.
Civil and Sanitary Works Office Director, Engr. Rolando Oliva, shares that the University conducts preventive maintenance whenever necessary. He compares such instances to normal house repairs whenever heavy rains or floods destroy a part or parts of it. “Your dad would do everything to repair the leaks or cracks immediately, right? That is what DLSU does as well,” Oliva states.
Most of the time, it is during the typhoon season that repair works are high in number. Although some are given short term solutions immediately after detection, as mentioned in the earlier paragraph, extensive repair works are conducted during the summer.
Oliva mentions that it is most feasible to do repair works during the summer since there is no threat of rain, which delays progress, and the safety of workers, which is prioritized by the University, is maintained.
“Maaayos mo nga [repair work during the rainy season] pero ang magiging problema mo naman ay baka may madisgrasya (you would be able to fix it immediately, but there is a high risk that your men will be in danger if they do repairs during the rainy season),” the engineer says.
He adds that there are only around 20 men who are employed to do such repair works, which makes it more difficult for the office to conduct regular maintenance work. He reassures though that projects that need immediate action are given the necessary attention by the office.
Withstanding the test of time
It cannot be denied that some of the University’s structures are older than most of the existing structures on Taft Ave. These buildings are more sensitive to changes in weather and calamities, among others.
Last academic year, the iconic St. La Salle Hall, the oldest among all DLSU campus buildings, underwent retrofitting. Retrofitting is the process of reinforcing the foundation of historical buildings to resist natural calamities and to keep safety standards up-to-date.
In the November 2010 issue of The LaSallian, Oliva expressed the need for retrofitting to preserve the Hall’s historical significance and to make the building safe for students’ use.
According to Estipona, there are various degrees of building deterioration his office takes note of whenever they inspect city structures. “If 75 percent of the building is already deteriorated, we recommend to condemn the structure, but there are some old buildings, such as DLSU’s St. La Salle Hall, which could still be used for as long as regular repairs and renovations are done to maintain the structure’s integrity,” Estipona shares
Oliva shares that the structural designers of each campus building determine whether the structure needs major repair and maintenance work, such as retrofitting. He also mentions that if DLSU has any plans to expand vertically, and to utilize the existing structures in the process, older campus buildings such as St. La Salle Hall, Velasco Hall and St. Miguel Hall, would not be able to hold the additional weight. The buildings’ foundations were built for a specific floor-building ratio and adding floors to existing campus buildings would be too risky.
There is no need to worry about the structural integrity of the recently erected campus building, reminds Oliva. He says that the structural designers of the relatively newer buildings such as the Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall, the Enrique Razon Sports Center, the Yuchengco Hall, and the newest addition to the campus, the Henry Sy Sr. Hall, made use of board piling in constructing the said buildings.
As Oliva explains it, board piling is the process of digging through the land where the structure will be put up, until it reaches the hardest part of the soil, the bedrock. After which, the building’s foundations are laid and the structure is then built over the foundation.
According to Oliva, the height from the bedrock to the soil surface could be as high as contemporary skyscrapers. This proves that the foundation of structures that use the technology of board piling is more stable than others’. it would be able to withstand natural occurrences such as earthquakes. The Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall’s foundation is also made out of more than 100 columns anchored on the bedrock.
Estipona shares that DLSU passed the most recent building inspection, and adds that the office did not see any urgent maintenance or repair projects the University has to undertake.
The Annual Inspection Office of the Manila City Hall is in charge of inspecting the different campus buildings each year. The date of inspection varies from year to year, depending on the availability of both the inspectors and DLSU. Usually, the inspection is held every February or March.
DLSU has been in existence for 100 years, and in those years buildings have been built, rebuilt, and renovated. Even if these changes happen, safety will always be a guarantee for Lasallians.