Oregon Senate Pres Proposes Earthquake Upgrades for School Buildings

Over the past 10,000 years or so, tectonic plate movements have caused 23 subduction zone earthquakes in Oregon, an average of one every 435 years. That may not seem like much, but as the last of these earthquakes, in which one tectonic plates slides under an adjacent plate, took place in 1700, the area is almost due for another. Experts agree that a major quake in our region, of magnitude 9 or greater, is guaranteed to happen (though they don’t know when). According to a 2007 study, more than 1,000 Oregon schools are unprepared for such an event.

Courtney Pushing for Improvements

In the years since the study, which reported that the school buildings in question have a high or very high risk of collapse in a major earthquake, only 25 schools have been granted money for seismic upgrades. Last week, State Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, proposed a “dramatic increase” in funding for such grants.

Under Courtney’s proposal, school districts would use grant money for renovations designed to keep students and teachers safe during an earthquake. The above-mentioned Statewide Seismic Need Assessment suggested that such upgrades for all school buildings in the state would cost roughly $10 billion; Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualitan, stated that current proposals would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million.

Photo credit: Shazster / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo credit: Shazster / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Capitol Building Requires Similar Upgrades

State legislature is also currently trying to reach a consensus on potential upgrades for the Oregon Capitol building. The proposed three-year project would cost approximately $250 million. However, if the school improvements bill and the Capitol upgrades are approved, the money for both may not be there.

Senator Fred Girod, R-Stayton, told the budget committee, “[The senate] will have some very […] intense conversations as to what we want to do. If I was going to spend money, it would be to make sure kids have a fighting chance.”

The Oregon Treasurer’s Office typically limits the amount of money lawmakers can borrow for these types of bond funding projects. Five percent of the general fund has historically been the limit. In 2013, that toal was roughly $781 million.