Northwest NEWS

April 1, 2002

Local News


City studies seismic upgrades for historic Woodinville building

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   The Old Woodinville School building, sometimes referred to as the Sorenson Annex, located at 13203 NE 175th Street in Woodinville, has had a long life history. Though this article is not meant to be an obituary for the 'old girl,' decisions concerning the building's future will be made in the coming weeks and months.
   At question is the seismic integrity of the structure. More to the point, to what level of seismic safety should the building be retrofit?
   "The (City) Council agreed to apply for a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant," said Councilman Gareth Grube, "to do repairs that were obvious after the Feb. 28, 2001 earthquake."
   Subsequent engineering reports commissioned by the city indicate, said Grube, "The old building (may well have) all of earmarks of being a dangerous building."
   According to a staff report presented to the City Council at its March 18 meeting, "The Building Official (Dean McKee) is currently seeking consultation and evaluating the level of abatement needed to provide occupant, community and rescuer safety. The final decision has not been made pending some further investigation on the specifics of the building.
   "When that is complete, the city is likely to receive a notice to vacate at least a portion of the occupied space in the building or abate (upgrade) the hazard."
   The staff report indicated that the Nisqually quake caused "some minor cracking in the masonry." But it is not only the recent quake damage that concerns city officials. It is the cumulative damage that the building has sustained that needs to be taken into consideration.
   There was the 1949-7.1 (on the Richter scale) quake, the 1965-6.5 quake and the 2001-6.8 quake. And though "it has withstood three major shocks quite well," the staff report stated, "(i)n a subsequent shock, that stress will be transferred to the next weakest spot, so the effect can become cumulative without upgrade."
   Granted, there are many occupied unreinforced masonry buildings (such as this one) in the Puget Sound area that have not undergone seismic retrofits, said City Manager Pete Rose in a phone interview last week.
   The difference, of course, is that the Old Woodinville School building "is publicly owned for public use," Rose wrote in the staff report.
   "Public buildings should be held to a higher standard," said Rose.
   To that end, "(t)he council has agreed to vacate the building," said Rose. "It's just a question of when."
   Rose will be taking another staff report to the City Council's April 15 meeting, he said.
   In it will be a recommended timeline for the building's vacation.
   "I imagine we'll go on a rather short leash at this point," Rose said.
   "By doing that (vacating the building), the danger goes away," he explained.
   This will allow for a more thoughtful dialog with the community about the level of seismic retrofit warranted for this building, which is on the Historic Register, Rose added.
   According to the March 18 staff report, of the two commissioned engineering reports, one approached the building "from the standpoint of a total retrofit to restore the building to its highest, safest and best use."
   Ballpark cost estimates for such a project could range from three-quarters of a million to over two million dollars. The other report approached the building "from the standpoint of minimum safety and survivability. To test that, the building was measured against the FEMA 178 standard, a benchmark for survivability in a seismic event.
   It was found that the building did not meet the minimum standard and identified the minimum retrofit activities to achieve it."
   This type of seismic upgrade could cost in the neighborhood of one-quarter of a million dollars.
   So now the city is faced with options. It can, for instance:
   1. Continue to use the building within the limits placed upon it by the Building Official.
   2. Do upgrades to meet FEMA 178 standards and use the building as an office type of occupancy.
   3. Do upgrades between the level of FEMA 178 minimums and full-reinforced masonry and seismic upgrades.
   4. Do a complete seismic upgrade to get the maximum use and greatest chance of retention out of the building.
   What the city does not want to do is opt for the minimum upgrades then later decide that it wants full-reinforced masonry upgrades. Such a decision could mean tearing out the minimum upgrades in order to accommodate the higher upgrades.
   According to the staff report presented at the March 18 council meeting, "The most cost-effective decision is therefore the one that decides the level of upgrade once and sticks to it."
   Said Rose, "The city has met with its Landmarks Commission (representative), Phyllis Keller."
   He said further that once vacation has been decided, the city would be happy to take the slow track, to have good community conversation about the future of the building and how to pay for it.
   When the time comes for vacation of the Old Woodinville School building, affected tenants will be relocated to the Sorenson School building where there is ample room to accommodate them.