Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1950 No. 319 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Facts of case justify opinion that relief funds may be used to construct temporary portable school buildings to replace former classrooms which were so damaged by the earthquake that their repair is economically unsound.

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                                                                  August 8, 1950

Honorable A. L. Rasmussen
Representative, Twenty-eighth District
622 South 35th Street
Tacoma, Washington                                                                                                       Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 319

Dear Sir:

            You have requested the opinion of this office on the following question:

            May state funds appropriated in chapter 88, Laws of 1949, for disaster relief purposes be expended for the construction of portable school buildings to provide classroom facilities to replace temporarily those damaged by an earthquake?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            Moneys appropriated in chapter 88, Laws of 1949, for disaster relief purposes may be expended for the construction of temporary school classroom quarters to replace former classrooms which are so damaged that their repair is economically unsound.


             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]                                                                             

            A further statement of the facts is in order, for the decision rests on the fact of disaster and the need to repair and minimize the resultant harm.  You state that two Tacoma schools were so damaged by the earthquake of April 13, 1949, that classrooms therein are not usable, that these rooms could be repaired for temporary use, but that this procedure appears to be economically unsound in view of the fact that the buildings are soon to be torn down and replaced.  The portable classrooms would not only replace temporarily the lost classrooms but would have the added advantage of being available for future use as the need arose.                                                                             

            The purpose of chapter 88, Laws of 1949, is obvious: the state has provided funds for therelief of the damage resulting from disasters, such as a fire, flood, or earthquake.  The schools, when damaged and our educational system interrupted, are proper objects of this relief from damage and injury.  If a school is damaged so that it cannot be used, the damage should be minimized or repaired by the most economically sound expenditure of the public funds.  In some cases, repair of the existing building is the obvious course of action; but, on the other hand, where the building is demolished beyond repair (in the ordinary sense of that word), it would be senseless to expend moneys to effect a "repair" when the sounder course is new construction.  Your situation appears to be in between these two extremes, for the buildings stand and could be repaired for temporary use, but any permanent repair for long-term use is not feasible.  The economically sound approach is not to waste moneys on these buildings by providing only temporary facilities if the language of the statute will support an expenditure which will be of more permanent use.  Specifically, may the funds be used for new construction?

            The language of the statute is not broad enough to support new construction to permanentlyreplace damaged and demolished structures, for the purpose of the appropriation is only to permit temporary relief.  It does not follow, however, that all that is new construction is not permitted.  In our opinion the bestrelief may be the provision of new-though necessarily temporary-facilities to replace, for the time being, the damaged buildings.  If repair and similar restoration is impossible or merely economically unsound when considered with long-range plans, temporary relief by means of new construction may be authorized.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The obvious hazard of this authorization is that permanent new quarters will be constructed.  This is not within the purpose of the appropriation, and is not permissible.  No more money should be expended for new construction ‑ as distinguished from ordinary repair of damaged structures ‑ than to provide classrooms until the permanent buildings can be replaced.  If the temporary buildings have future utility, they may, of course, be retained for such use.  But they may not be built for such long-term use.

            In section 2 of Chapter 88 "disaster relief" is defined as

            "any concerted effort to relieve suffering, minimize injury and repair damage * * *."

            It is our opinion that the construction of temporary classrooms under the facts set forth herein will both "minimize injury" and "repair damage" caused by the earthquake.  It will minimize the injury to the school program and it will make amends for the damage by providing facilities for temporary use pending reconstruction or permanent repair.

            Our opinion of June 23, 1949, to the Governor, is not in conflict with this conclusion, because that opinion pertains to construction and acquisition of facilities tosupplement those which were damaged and repaired.  As we stated therein:

            "the enlarging or supplementing of the old building after the same has been repaired, however, does not fall * * * within the statutory definition of disaster relief * * *."

Very truly yours,

Attorney General