fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Schools get money for seismic safety

School districts in Medford, Eagle Point, Rogue River and Butte Falls will each get a share of $50.3 million allocated in the 2015 legislative session for seismic safety upgrades.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature approved the sale of $175 million in bonds to fund seismic safety grants for schools. Earlier this month, Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, named the recipients of the first round of grants. A second round totaling $125 million will be awarded later this year, said Nathan Buehler, the agency’s marketing manager.

“And there will be an additional $30 million available for emergency services buildings,” he said.

Business Oregon, which has overseen Oregon’s Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program since 2014, reviewed 107 applications from school districts statewide and awarded 41 grants, ranging from $289,038 to $1.5 million. The four local districts received nearly $1.5 million each.

Seismologists are predicting an earthquake with a magnitude of between 8.7 and 9.2 — commonly referred to as “The Really Big One” after a New Yorker magazine article that called attention to it — along the Cascadia subduction zone, which runs from Cape Mendocino, Calif., to Vancouver Island, Canada. Although they don’t know when, they think it could potentially devastate the Pacific Northwest.

“There’s been a greater awareness since there’s been more publicity and reports of a seismic event coming, and we need to be ready for it,” Buehler said.

As part of the application process, each school district conducted a preliminary engineering assessment to determine the scope of the work needed and the costs associated.

MSD determined that Ruch Community School had the greatest structural needs. The school, built in 1913, was upgraded in 2008 but still contains unreinforced masonry around the staff room, explained Ron Havniear, the district’s support services and facilities manager.

“Basically, it’s a brick wall with no structural support, so if an earthquake wave were to move through, it'd be more vulnerable,” Havniear said.

The work, he explained, could include attaching the roof to the wall and the wall to the foundation, upgrading the bearing walls behind the masonry and reinforcing the siding with plywood.

Once the work is complete, the school will meet the American Society for Civil Engineers‘ Life Safety standards, meaning that even if the building is damaged beyond repair in an earthquake, “people will still be able to exit the building,” Havniear said.

The district will issue a formal request for qualification, first for the design work and then for a contractor, and be ready to start work in the summer of 2017.

In the meantime, it has budgeted for an engineering assessment of all its facilities this summer.

“Most of our modern schools (South Medford High School and Jackson, Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools) probably won’t need any work,” Havniear said. “We’ve already done some seismic upgrades at Washington (Elementary School) and Central (Medford High School), but not the full facilities.”

“Bottom line, we are trying to eliminate the uncertainty,” he added.

The Eagle Point and Rogue River school districts are working on a timeline similar to Medford’s, with construction starting in the summer of 2017.

Eagle Point’s $1.495 million grant will pay for upgrades at both gymnasiums at Table Rock Elementary School, said district Business Manager Scott Whitman.

“The work will focus on strengthening walls and the connections to the roof structures and ceilings to bring them to current safety standards,” Whitman said in an email. “There will be some window replacements with new tempered glass.”

“When an earthquake hits the biggest risk is that the roof shifts and collapses, so the main work is to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.

The gyms serve as Red Cross emergency shelters and will be retrofitted to meet ASCE’s Immediate Occupancy standards so they not only remain standing after an earthquake but also functional.

When the next round of seismic safety grants becomes available, the district will conduct an analysis to determine whether any of its other facilities have a high enough risk factor to be eligible for a grant, Whitman said.

“There’s only a certain amount of money available, and so they are going to award money to districts with buildings with the highest risk factor,” he said. “For us, these were the only two buildings that were likely to get approved in this round, basically meaning the other structures … weren’t in any imminent danger either because they were newer or the type of construction was safe.”

The Rogue River School District will use its $1.49 million to “reinforce” Rogue River Elementary School’s west campus, which serves fourth- through sixth-grade students, said Don Sweeney, the district’s business manager.

“The center of the building was built in approximately the 1920s and additions were built in the ’70s and 2000s, so the center of it is certainly not up to seismic standards and that’s where the majority of the work will happen,” he said.

Sweeney said the district has completed seismic upgrades to the elementary school’s east campus, and the high school is a new, more structurally sound building.

Butte Falls School District received $1.49 million to fund improvements to its high school. Calls to school district officials regarding the scope and timeline of that work were not immediately returned.

Oregon’s Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program was established in 2005 under Senate Bill 3 and was overseen first by the state’s Office of Emergency Management and, as of 2014, by Business Oregon. Between 2009 and 2014, the program awarded $58 million in grants for seismic safety rehabilitation of public buildings, Buehler said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.