In terms of stability, both the Ondine and Montgomery Court housing buildings sit like loose stacks of cards, threatening to sway and topple in the event of an earthquake, according to building experts at Portland State.
That threat is being addressed, thanks to 2004 grants for seismic upgrades, with work already underway at the Ondine.
“We applied for and received two grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” said Mike Irish, Director of Facilities.
The 15-story Ondine is constructed of concrete with steel interior reinforcement, but there is no vertical reinforcing connection between the floors. A major earthquake would result in severe swaying at best, toppling at worst.
Montgomery Court is an old reinforced masonry structure. It exists as an unconnected series of structures with a common roof. An earthquake could set the structures bouncing against each other, with severe potential damage. Both buildings are sensitive areas, since they are filled with residential students.
Work is in progress at the Ondine, with exterior reinforcing tying the basement and lower three floors together as one unit.
“We’re going up the column lines and making sure there’s a one-piece structure from ground to roof,” Irish said. He added that the floors will be then tied into the columns to stabilize the entire structure.
Present funding only takes care of the first three floors but in order to get a city permit the university had to promise to finish the job in 10 years.
“Tying the base together gives you a solid foundation to minimize swaying of the upper floors,” Irish said. As for the remainder of the necessary funding, he’s hoping for more FEMA money and support from the state legislature.
Work on Montgomery Court will begin this summer. The entire roof will be removed and replaced. It will tie together the parapets, vertical structures that rise above the roof line. No students will be displaced by the work, Irish said.
Both Portland State and Oregon Institute of Technology at Klamath Falls were chosen by FEMA for demonstration grants.
“OIT is in an active earthquake zone,” Irish said. “PSU also sits over a fault.”
The work is part of an ongoing government program to educate people and institutions about earthquake-proofing and to fund demonstration projects.
The program at PSU began with a campus tour by Yumei Wang, geohazard supervisor with the State Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. She took a building walk-by tour with Dick Piekenbrock, university architect. Their purpose was to identify likely structures to receive funding for demonstration projects.
“The Ondine was seen as a high rise without particular high rise restraints,” Irish recalled. “Also, it houses a lot of students.”
The result was the designation of both the Ondine and Montgomery Court for seismic upgrade grants.
“FEMA thought we were good examples of where earthquakes might happen,” Irish said. “The projects would show people what you need to do, especially in institutions.”
The Ondine grant is for $1.8 million. The Montgomery Court grant is for $750,000.
“The Ondine grant is bigger because it’s so high and there’s a great deal more work involved,” Irish noted. However, the FEMA grants only cover about 75 percent of the money involved. The remainder is being covered by internal staff work, Irish said.
“We are allowed to use in-kind support for architecture and project management,” he explained. The university is also operating under some time constraints.
“We have to be done and have the FEMA money spent in 22 months,” he said.
The project is under the project management of Ron Ritchie. General direction comes under the portfolio of student housing but the grants are being funneled through facilities.
Irish said the seismic upgrades are part of a larger program to improve sensitivity to earthquake threat. Chuck Cooper, campus occupational health and safety officer, has taken a pilot course in how to judge a building in a non-invasive manner for its earthquake damage susceptibility,
“The course is to teach the teachers,” Irish said. “He has taken the class and is going to set up classes.”