In the event of a major earthquake, the school districts of Tillamook County have each been awarded a combined total of over four million dollars in grant money, to structurally improve three of their buildings to help protect children and staff.
By Jordan Wolfe
According to Representative David Gomberg, the “Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program” comes from Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, who oversees the program to rehab schools and other critical public buildings so they will be better prepared to withstand a major earthquake. This important tool to keep schools and emergency buildings safe was championed by Senate President Peter Courtney, who held a media event on Friday to announce the awardees.
Gomberg says, “we need to make sure our structures hold up through the quake so when the shaking stops our kids can run to high ground. And later, these public buildings will serve as support centers for families that need help. This is scary stuff, but smart investments now will save lives in the future.”
“The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries came and did a seismic needs assessment of all of the schools,” says Shannon Farrier, the Finance Director of Tillamook School District, “they gave Liberty Elementary School’s gymnasium a ‘highest needs’ score – which means it has a 100 percent chance to potentially collapse in the event of a major earthquake.” The gym, built in 1930, is structurally sound, but large, heavy timber trusses could bring the roof down, if a large earthquake were to occur, Farrier says.
Jay Marugg, Transportation and Maintenance Director for TSD says, “the retrofit to the gym will be from the foundation up. They’ll go over everything with a fine-toothed comb.” He says, part of the stabilization to the building will be taking the metal roof off, stripping it down to the framing and add plywood sheeting with a special nail pattern to add resistance if a seismic event were to occur.
Paul Erlebach, superintendent of Neah-Kah-Nie School District, says, “the state did a drive-by assessment of all schools in Oregon and rated them all for seismic priority.” The school district’s award will go to Nehalem Elementary School, with plans to apply for Garibaldi Elementary School during the next round of applications in the fall.
The grant has a list of eligible and ineligible activities that the funds may be used for. Structural improvements, architecture and engineering are eligible. However, buildings located in the Tsunami Inundation Zone are ineligible, according to Business Oregon’s website. Erlebach says that Neah-Kah-Nie Junior/Senior High School would not qualify for this round of grant money due to their location next to the Pacific Ocean.
Nestucca Valley School District superintendent, David Phelps, discovered the grant after speaking with County Commissioner Mark Labhart at a meeting in Pacific City, “I told the school board there would be an opportunity for this specific grant to happen – but I also told them to not get their hopes up,” Phelps says. After attending a training on writing the grant in McMinnville in October, Phelps and his team worked to submit the application before winter break, and heard about their award for Nestucca Valley Elementary School two weeks ago, “This grant is specifically to retrofit older school buildings, for a worst-case scenario, that would stabilize the building enough to safely evacuate with our children.”
All school district representatives say that there is a two-year timeframe to utilize the grant money from the official award date. Farrier says Tillamook School District’s grant will be officially awarded in May or June, which does not give them enough time to begin and complete their project during the summer break. Farrier anticipates the work on Liberty’s gym to be a project for summer 2017.
Phelps says, “I’m not aware of any grant this large to be awarded to our district. I am honored that we have received it and just really excited to get started.”
Complete award totals:
Nestucca Valley School District for Nestucca Valley Elementary School: $1,492,800
Neah-Kah-Nie School District for Nehalem Elementary School: $1,396,000
Tillamook School District for Liberty Elementary School’s gymnasium: $1, 161,400