Many of Jackson County's more than 200 unreinforced, historic masonry buildings would be lost in a severe earthquake. But when a preservation group held a Jacksonville roundtable a year ago, representatives felt that people here weren't as concerned about seismic dangers as people elsewhere in the state.
The organization, Historic Preservation League of Oregon, will present an educational session about seismic dangers for communities and solutions for upgrading and preserving old buildings on Thursday, March 21, at Jacksonville's historic Courthouse Building, an unreinforced 1883 structure. (Correction: The date of the event has been updated in this story.)
Seismic reinforcement of the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse would cost from $332,000 to $415,000, according to estimates prepared for a report by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon titled "Resilient Masonry Buildings."
The courthouse was one of several examples used in the report to illustrate the challenges of rehabilitating old buildings.
Jackson County transferred ownership of the building to the city of Jacksonville in November. The city is using it for occasional meetings while it determines how best to utilize and preserve the asset. It most recently housed the Southern Oregon Historical Society's museum.
KPFF Consulting Engineers of Portland, which donated its services, estimated costs at $31 to $44 per square foot to allow immediate occupancy of the building, with some damage following an earthquake. A lower level of work, at a cost $25 to $35 per square foot, would allow occupants to exit, but there would be considerable damage. The figures do not include other improvements and repairs that the building may need at this time for daily use.
Peggy Moretti, executive director of the preservation league, said participants in informal polling conducted during a Jacksonville roundtable meeting last year clearly pinpointed the courthouse as the landmark structure to preserve. In contrast, other Oregon communities hosting roundtables named districts or several structures as most important.
Jacksonville Mayor Paul Becker will speak during a reception in the building at 5 p.m. Thursday. Tours will be available, and discussions will be held on future uses for the building.
— Tony Boom
League Executive Director Peggy Moretti said she heard more concern about seismic dangers expressed at similar roundtables in Astoria and Portland, even though Southern Oregon potentially has a higher likelihood for a large earthquake.
"We have heard over the last year from people (in Southern Oregon) who are now concerned about that," said Moretti. She hopes building owners, government officials, construction professionals and the public will turn out for a 5 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. presentation.
Findings gathered from four roundtable meetings last year and summarized in a 16-page report will be discussed. The report covers not only the buildings but potential strategies and policies to increase awareness and raise economic support for building reliance. Oregon has more than 5,000 unreinforced buildings constructed from the 1840s through the 1930s.
Among recommendations in the report are more flexibility in building codes, expanding access to federal rehabilitation tax credits for smaller buildings, community inventory of the structures with post-disaster plans, creation of a new state program to provide incentives to upgrade buildings, and a voluntary program rating the resiliency of the masonry buildings.
"It's not just about historic preservation, but where business interests intersect with these topics," said Brandon Spencer-Hartle, league field programs manager, who authored the report.
The event is free. The courthouse is at 250 N. Fifth St. The league's report can be viewed at www.historicpreservationleague.org/specialReport2012.php
The buildings are part of main-street economies, serve as residences or are government-owned public spaces. Current building standards focus primarily on saving lives, not buildings and their functions, the report states.
Among obstacles to achieving resiliency are insufficient knowledge, prohibitively expensive rehabilitation costs and inconsistent regulations, according to the document. Suggested strategies include:
"Only two communities in the state have taken a more flexible but also progressive approach to making seismic upgrades," said Spencer-Hartle. "Medford is right there with Portland in making the upgrades."
The current state rehabilitation tax credit is largely ineffective for providing historic preservation incentive, the report concludes. The league plans to hold discussions throughout the year to identify a new and improved incentive program.
An effort might then be made during the 2015 legislative session to update the program. As a nonprofit, the league cannot lobby for change, but it can educate legislators about the issues, said Moretti.
"Doing seismic upgrades is making a commitment that we are going to keep these things around, even if (an earthquake) doesn't happen in our generation," said Spencer-Hartle.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.