Governor, state officials considering seismic retrofit for public schools

SPANAWAY, Wash. – For years, scientists have been saying say we’re overdue for a large earthquake in Western Washington.

A large number of our public school buildings are still not up to code to withstand severe shaking.

Washington is the only West Coast state that doesn’t require older public school facilities to upgrade seismic mediation.

While new construction addresses those problems, many older schools are now out of code compliance and it could cost millions of dollars to upgrade.

“It’s an obvious threat,” said Bethel School District Superintendent Tom Seigel. “It needs to be addressed.”

The hallways and classrooms look normal at Evergreen Elementary School in Spanaway but the problem is behind the walls; outdated construction means the buildings on campus could crumble during a big earthquake.

“We have 27 buildings but we have four that are seismically deficient,” said Seigel.

Right now it’s mostly up to individual school districts to come up with money to bring buildings up to seismic standards.

Several years ago, Westport voters approved an $18 million bond to build the country’s first vertical evacuation shelter to help save lives during a tsunami.

But elsewhere it’s hard to convince voters to pony up more money to pay for upgrades.

“We’ve only passed four bonds since 1980 and we’re at the point where you have to look at our buildings and one of the requirements we need to address is seismic upgrading and the only way to be able to afford it is to pass a bond,” said Seigel.

“The fact that we can’t solve all these problems and we cannot totally guarantee no disruption in the biggest earthquake that North America will ever see, it should not dissuade us from making common sense decisions and rational investments,” said Gov. Jay Inslee.

On Wednesday, Inslee met with other school and state officials to come up with strategies to pay for upgrades at hundreds of campuses across the state.

But for now the Bethel School District is going back to the drawing board with another bond, hoping voters approve the taxes to help keep kids safe during an earthquake.

“In order to do it right, you have to spend a lot of money,” said Seigel. “That’s why the seismic upgrade is incorporated into the proposed bond that we have and it needs to be done.”