While Seattle churns on earthquake retrofit plans, Capitol Hill school set for seismic upgrades

E Mercer’s Lowell Elementary is lined up for summer seismic work

Saturday afternoon around 3:35 PM, a magnitude 2.7 earthquake sent a little jolt of reminder rippling out of South Seattle. The city has some seismic work to do.

On Capitol Hill, the next round of work begins this summer as Lowell Elementary School is scheduled for major seismic updates this summer while the city tries to figure out what to do about other brick buildings around town.

Lowell’s brick facades are considered unreinforced masonry, which is typically cited as being at a high risk of damage during an earthquake. In spite of the risk, no schools within Seattle, Lowell included, were damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Quake, noted Thomas Redman, of Seattle Public Schools via email. The 6.8 earthquake was the largest in the area in recent history. Still, it doesn’t hurt to shore things up.

The seismic upgrades will anchor the bricks of the veneer to the concrete behind them. The project will also improve connections in trusses in the attic, and replace one damaged truss. The project is expected to cost about $260,000 and will be financed by the BEX IV levy, approved by Seattle voters in 2013.

The levy included funding for seismic upgrades across the city. An engineering survey determined which buildings were in greatest need of work, and Lowell’s turn has come up on the list.

Redman said the bricks will be anchored in key locations around the building. The focus will be near doors, in an effort to keep building exits free of debris in case of an emergency. Work is set to begin June 25, just after school ends, and finish by August 19.

Citywide, plans are chugging along for possible regulations mandating all owners of unreinforced masonry buildings perform retrofits. Last July, a task force studying the issue released its report (PDF), and it was not a happy report.

Citywide, the group found 77 buildings it designated as critical in terms of need for a retrofit, which included buildings such as schools, hospitals and fire stations. Another 183 buildings are of high risk. These are buildings either taller than three stories on poor soil, or have more than 100 people in them. Another 902 buildings were called a medium risk. This category covered all other unreinforced masonry buildings in the city. This all adds up to 1,162 buildings in need of work.

The task force estimated it would take more than seven years and close to $1 billion to address all of them.

After the report hit, the City Council directed the Department of Construction and Inspections to develop an outreach strategy to groups that might be impacted if the city were to mandate upgrades for the buildings.

The report is in development, said Bryan Stevens, of the department. The department is also working with the state on the issue, after the Legislature budgeted $200,000 to study the issue statewide.

Stevens said they are also continuing to study how all of the upgrades will be paid for. He does not expect the issue to come before the City Council before next year.


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One thought on “While Seattle churns on earthquake retrofit plans, Capitol Hill school set for seismic upgrades

  1. How to pay for the upgrades? Simple. You wait for the earthquake and then the Feds come forward with emergency funds to do the repairs.* Works all over the country. We even got a new I-90 bridge after it was destroyed in a storm, mostly paid for by Federal dollars.

    Ask for the money in advance? You’ll get turned down flat. That’s just the way it goes.

    *And if there are fatalities you get even more!