Washington state finds schools unsuited for earthquakes

SEATTLE —  When the big one hits, Washington wants to be ready. Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources says many of our schools are not structurally prepared.  The DNR says they’ve inspected 222 public school buildings and more than 40 percent of them need work.

The DNR says they have developed a complete plan to fix 15 of the schools so far.

“Some of our oldest school buildings are built in the late 1800s to those all the way into the 2000s, and the estimated damage for these schools, the median building, is expected to be 43 percent damaged in a design level earthquake, which is roughly comparable to the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. And about a quarter of the buildings we studied are expected to be non-usable following this earthquake,” says geologist Corina Forson .

Forson goes on to say about 50 percent of the buildings would be red-tagged after a massive quake.  There are plans to retrofit 15 schools.  It runs about $1.5 million each.

That sounds pricey, but the costs fluctuate a lot by school, and experts say it’s still a lot less expensive than repairing a building that’s ruined by a quake.

“Washington state is second highest risk in the nation for earthquakes. In addition to that, 70 percent of our schools are in high-risk areas and about 200 just one mile from the fault line. Doing this study helps us really raise the profile of how significant an issue it is of where our kids go to school and spend the majority of their day; not necessarily in the safest buildings in this area,” says Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

Officials say this is a pro-active approach.  They’ve reviewed 200 schools and that’s only five percent of the total schools in the state. They have a budget request for 300 more schools and the goal is nail down the retrofits for each school, so kids are safe.

As far as funding is concerned, Franz says they have to bring it to the legislature and get them to invest up front.  She says it will save lives and save money.