The Division of the State Architect provides design and construction oversight for K–12 schools, community colleges, and various other state-owned and leased facilities. The division also develops accessibility, structural safety, and historical building codes and standards utilized in various public and private buildings throughout the state of California.
The Division of the State Architect (DSA) provides design and construction oversight for K–12 schools, community colleges, and various other state-owned and state-leased facilities to ensure that they comply with all structural, accessibility, and fire and life safety codes. To promote consistent knowledge and application of the California Building Codes, as well as information for successful plan review and construction of projects under DSA’s jurisdiction, DSA offers classes through its DSA Academy.
- DSA also develops accessibility, structural safety, and historical building codes and standards utilized in various public and private buildings throughout the state of California. Various groups were established to work with DSA on these projects.
- DSA is also charged with administering certification programs for project inspectors, materials testing laboratories, and certified access specialists.
- DSA is headquartered in Sacramento with regional offices in Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
- Section 17280 - 17316 (Field Act; K–12)
- Section 81130 - 81147 (Field Act; Community Colleges)
- Section 4450 (Accessibility)
- Section 4465 - 4470 (Disability Access and Education)
- Section 14963 (Fire and Life Safety)
Health and Safety Code
- Section 16000 - 16023 (Essential Services Buildings)
- Section 18950 - 18961 (State Historical Building Code)
Regulations - Title 24, Parts 1 - 12
- Part 1 - Administrative Code
- Part 2 - Building Code
- Parts 3, 4, 5, 6 - Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing & Energy Codes
- Part 9 - Fire Code
- Part 11 - CALGreen Code
This description of the jurisdiction of DSA is intended for general guidance only. Please refer to the Government Code, Education Code and other applicable laws and standards for complete information. This information is not intended to contradict or interpret any law or regulation.
K–12 Public Schools and Community Colleges
The Field Act establishes stringent structural safety standards for public schools to withstand earthquakes and other hazards, not only to protect students and staff, but also because schools may serve as emergency shelters for their communities in the event of a disaster. Since the Field Act was enacted in 1933, DSA’s review and approval have ensured that there has never been a major structural failure at a public California K–12 school or community college.
State Essential Services Buildings
Essential services buildings provide services to the public after a major disaster. As such, they must have a high level of structural integrity. DSA is charged with enforcement of the Essential Services Building Seismic Safety Act and reviews and approves plans for these state-owned and state-leased facilities.
Other State-Funded Construction
DSA reviews construction plan compliance with accessibility requirements for all state-funded facilities in California, such as California courts, University of California, California State University, and state-owned buildings.
DSA has responsibility for enforcement in two separate areas of State law:
- Access Compliance: DSA has jurisdiction over access compliance requirements for all buildings in California (including schools) that are publicly-funded in whole or in part by the use of state funds per Government Code Section 4450 through 4461. Plan review of access compliance related features only, is performed for the following entities when public funds are used in construction:
- Public elementary and secondary Schools (grades K–12)
- Community colleges
- All state-owned or state-leased essential services buildings
- University of California
- California State University
- All state-owned State of California property
- All state-leased State of California property (enforced by DGS/Real Estate Services Division)
- Certain Charter schools PL 17-01: Charter Schools Enforcement Jurisdiction (PDF)
- General California Building Code Enforcement (For Public Schools and Essential Services Buildings Only): For public schools and State Essential Services Buildings (ESB), DSA has jurisdiction over all aspects of construction (including access compliance), to ensure that plans, specifications, and construction comply with the building code (Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations). Plan review and construction oversight is provided for all construction (except as noted in Section 2.1 and 2.3 below) on the following facilities:
- Public elementary and secondary schools (grades K–12) - see Education Code, Sections 17280-17317 and 17365-17374.
- Public Community colleges - see Education Code, Sections 81130-81149.
- All state-owned or state-leased essential services buildings buildings - see Health and Safety Code, Sections 16000-16023.
DSA Jurisdiction - Building/Construction Type
All construction must be reviewed and approved by DSA, except as noted below, before a contract for construction can be awarded. Title 24, Part 1 defines several exceptions (not including access compliance) to DSA jurisdiction for Building Code enforcement for various types of construction as described below (for more information on construction types, see DSA's Scope of Projects for DSA Plan Submittal by Construction Type in the dropdown/below).
- New Construction: Per Title 24, Part 1, Section 4-314 - Definitions, the following structures are classified as "school buildings" and are therefore subject to complete review and approval by DSA:
- Facilities or structures used for instructional purposes or intended to be entered by pupils or teachers for school purposes.
- Dwellings for pupils or teachers on the school site.
- Any structure, utility system or facility necessary to the complete functioning of the school.
- Any structure on school grounds that could endanger pupils or teachers if it were to collapse.
- Additions: All additions are subject to DSA review and approval regardless of size or cost. Note that additions may only be made to DSA compliant structures unless alterations to bring the existing structure into compliance are also included in the scope of the project. See IR A-20.
- Alterations: Alteration projects require DSA review and approval except for low cost projects as described in DSA IR A-10. Projects shall not be subdivided for the purpose of evading review requirements.
Note that construction must still conform to all building code requirements and that the school board is still responsible for hiring a licensed architect or engineer to prepare plans and specifications for the construction, and must also provide for adequate inspection of the construction even when plan review by DSA is not required.
Excluded Structures and Other Exceptions
Title 24, Part 1, Section 4-314 also defines certain types of structures that are not considered to be “school buildings.” When the entire scope of a construction project includes only these structures they may be constructed without first obtaining structural or fire/life safety approval from DSA (note that access compliance review by DSA is still required). These structures may be submitted to DSA for full review at the option of the school district. Note that these structures must still be designed, constructed and inspected per code requirements even if they are not submitted to DSA for structural or fire and life safety review.
Structures that are not considered to be regulated by DSA as “school buildings,” when they constitute the entire scope of construction, include:
- One-story buildings not over 250 square feet in floor area when used exclusively as accessory facilities to athletic fields (equipment storage, toilets, snack bars, ticket booths, etc.).
- Greenhouses, barns and storage sheds used exclusively for plants or animals and not used for classroom instruction (small groups of pupils or teachers may enter these structures for short periods of time).
- Light poles or flagpoles less than 35 feet tall.
- Antenna towers less than 35 feet tall.
- Retaining walls less than 4 feet above the top of foundations and not supporting a surcharge.
- Concrete or masonry fences less than 6 feet above adjacent grade.
- Ball walls or yard walls less than 6 feet above adjacent grade.
- Signs, scoreboards or solid-clad fences less than 8 feet above adjacent grade.
- Bleachers and grandstands with five rows of seats or less.
- Playground equipment, open-mesh fences and baseball backstops.
- “Temporary-use” buildings on community college sites used for less than three years.
- “Trailer Coaches” that conform to the requirements of the Health and Safety Code, Division 13, Part 2, commencing with section 18000, that are not greater than 16 feet in width and used for special education purposes for no more than 12 pupils at a time (or 20 pupils for driver training purposes).
Note that additional exceptions to DSA approval requirements exist for various unusual situations. For more information about these exceptions please refer to the Education Code or contact one of DSA's Regional Offices.
Section 4-310 of Title 24, Part 1 states that the following types of buildings are not subject to the Field Act requirements and therefore need not be submitted to DSA for structural or fire/life safety review; however, these structures must still be designed, constructed and inspected per code requirements even if they are not submitted to DSA. These types of buildings must also be reviewed and approved by DSA for access compliance requirements (see above):
- Bus garage, warehouse, storage and similar buildings.
- Dwellings for non-teacher, non-pupil employees.
- Other 'non-school use' buildings or structures.
- District-wide administration buildings that are not on a school site which are not entered by pupils or teachers for school purposes.
The school board shall take all necessary precautions to prevent injuries to pupils or teachers on school grounds as a result of collapse of 'non-school' buildings on a school site. Such precautions may include fencing-off the non-school buildings from the rest of the school site.
Also, a sign stating that: "This building does not meet the earthquake safety requirements of the California State building code and shall not be entered by pupils or teachers" shall be posted on all non-school buildings on school sites.
Finally, the school board shall pass a resolution stating that the structure shall not be used for school purposes and that no pupils or teachers, as such, will be permitted to use or enter said building for said purposes or be subjected to a hazard resulting from its collapse. A copy of the resolution shall be submitted to DSA.
All structures (including those not subject to DSA approval) are still required to be designed and constructed in accordance with the requirements of the building code. The school board is responsible for hiring a licensed architect or engineer to design such structures, and must also provide for adequate inspection of the construction.
The Field Act imposes important requirements on California K–12 public schools and community colleges that are not present in other types of construction approval processes:
Licensed design professionals must prepare drawings and specifications for proposed construction work.
Drawings and specifications have to be verified by DSA for compliance with applicable building codes.
The building codes utilized in the design of school buildings contain structural provisions superior to many other types of facilities, with consideration for known seismic activity in California.
A project owner (school or community college district) must hire a DSA-certified inspector to oversee construction. The inspector selection must be approved by the owner, design professionals and DSA.
Changes to approved drawings and specifications for DSA-regulated portions of the project shall be submitted and approved by DSA prior to commencement of work.
At the conclusion of construction, the design professionals, the inspector and the contractor shall file verified reports with DSA indicating the work has been performed in compliance with the approved plans and specifications.