Oregon ASCE Members Make Resiliency a Priority in School District

September 17, 2015
Project architects, community members and children join a ground-breaking for Beaverton’s new resilient schools. PHOTO: Scott Johnson/Beaverton Project Manager-Facilities Development

It’s not easy to face up to the frightening prospect of a major earthquake and tsunami striking your community.

Two years ago, the state of Oregon adopted a resilience plan with a 50-year strategy to address the threat posed by the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The plan takes a “not-if-but-when” approach to the next disaster, and it can make for scary reading.

But the Beaverton School District – led by several ASCE members – is not intimidated, seeing the state plan as a means to build a more resilient community. Seven new schools to be built over the next several years will all apply the resilience plan’s recommendations.

“It was evident to the school district that we had this special opportunity at a key moment in time with the construction of these seven schools,” said Dick Steinbrugge, P.E., M.ASCE, executive administrator for facilities at Beaverton. “It was sort of a call to action with regard to the Oregon Resilience Plan.”

Steinbrugge attended a conference in 2014 featuring a presentation by fellow ASCE member, Kent Yu, Ph.D., P.E., S.E., M.ASCE, detailing Yu’s work on the Oregon Resilience Plan as chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission. Steinbrugge described the presentation’s information as “sobering.”

“We are in the most populous area of the state, and even in the [Willamette] Valley the projections are that lifeline services could be out for weeks and months,” Steinbrugge said. “So in thinking about the schools, the seismic code standard is Life Safety. We decided, that really wasn’t good enough given what the experts were saying about the probability of the next major Cascadia earthquake in the next 50, 100 years.

“The schools we’re building now probably will be around in 80 years, if we build them right; maybe even longer. Smart economics suggested we build them to a higher seismic standard than what code required.”

An overhead view in August of Beaverton new middle school. PHOTO: Scott Johnson/Beaverton Project Manager-Facilities Development

An overhead view in August of Beaverton new middle school. PHOTO: Scott Johnson/Beaverton Project Manager-Facilities Development

The Beaverton Schools enlisted Yu as the principal-in-charge of developing a plan for resilient construction of these new schools, along with his Beaverton-based SEFT Consulting Group.

“Traditionally, when we perform post-event investigations after earthquakes and tsunamis, we typically look at what happened, what damage has occurred to the infrastructure systems; we generally focus on the initial level of damage and maybe focus a little bit on the response,” Yu said.

“But for resilience we need to look at a lot more. Resilience means that we want to reduce the initial damage and also recover very, very quickly. We need to understand what worked and what didn’t, both in terms of actual infrastructure and how crews implemented temporary fixes to get services restored. And when we rebuild, we need to implement these lessons so that our infrastructure will be in much better shape than before the event. Response, recovery, reconstruction – that’s much broader than what we used to do.”

Chris Poland, P.E., S.E., F.SEI, M.ASCE, also is on the project team. Yu and Poland are members of ASCE’s Infrastructure Resilience Division Executive Committee, established this past January to help develop resilience-building collaborations just like the ones that are succeeding in Beaverton.

The IRD hosted a leadership summit in June and generated a list of potential initiatives to begin addressing how to implement resilience concepts into civil engineering practice. The Executive Committee prioritized the list in August, with plans to start work on some of them this winter.

Disaster recovery requires coordination of several service areas – water, transportation, energy, structures, to name a few. And just as a resilient approach requires consideration of the total support system, the IRD is seeking to connect groups from all around the civil engineering world and beyond.

“How do we engage other parts of ASCE in our work? Our goal is not to become a silo about resilience, but rather thread resilience through everything that is relevant within ASCE and collaborate,” said Marsha D. Anderson Bomar, M.ASCE, vice chair of the IRD Executive Committee.

“Having the conversation about resilience is important. We don’t all agree on why things are changing, but we know that conditions are changing – different ways in different parts of the country. It’s important for a community to determine how it wants to invest in its future.”

In Beaverton, investing in the future means seven new resilient schools.

The community approved a $680 million bond in May 2014. Construction has started on the high school and middle school.

Typically schools are built at Seismic Risk Category III, Yu said. The structural system for the 330,000-square-foot high school in Beaverton is being built at Seismic Risk Category IV, essentially the same as a hospital.

The schools can serve as temporary emergency shelters after a catastrophic event. The high school, for example, has an upsized emergency generator and extra fuel supply. The large common areas – gym, kitchen, cafeteria – will be wired to run from the generator, separate from the rest of the building.

Remarkably, the design team was able to minimize the resiliency-related expenses. Steinbrugge estimates that the resilience additions at the high school will cost just under a million dollars, or about 1 percent of the buildings’s total $90 million cost (excludes non-building costs such as site development and property acquisition).

“We tried to incorporate a number of those ideas into the design, and I think successfully mimimized cost,” Steinbrugge said.

“It has not been a tough sell at all,” Steinbrugge said. “In talking with our school board about it, they have been very supportive. We also have a Citizen Bond Accountability Committee. They have unanimously and enthusiastically supported this idea.

“We are very fortunate to have such a supportive community here. Very, very fortunate.”

Readers can track the progress of Beaverton’s new schools through the district’s webcam; and watch a new ASCE video about resilient communities.


Leave a Reply

— required *

— required *