Structural changes make Ondine more earthquake ready

Due to its location in the highest risk seismic zone in the state, earthquake rehabilitation for the Ondine dorm on campus saw completion at the end of fall term. The Ondine building now has large structural reinforcements giving the new dining hall an urban look, which provides much function to its form.

The process for the recently completed construction began with structural testing in 2002. Last April, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded a $2.8 million Earthquake Building Rehabilitation grant to the Oregon University System (OUS). The Portland Hills fault zone lies beneath Portland State University. The grant went towards the Ondine and Montgomery residence halls because of their student capacity, location and antiquated construction.

Over the summer Montgomery over went structural improvements. The brick building was built in two phases in 1916 and 1925, long before the first statewide building code was enacted in 1974. According to John Eckman, associate director of auxiliary services at PSU, the construction involved protecting exits, strengthening stairwells and tying bricks into the building.

Amanda Dorais, a junior who resides in Ondine noted that her friends’ mom lived in the building as a student. “It’s old,” she said of the 15-story residence hall built in 1966.

Given the age of the buildings, the high-risk ratings of the residence halls did not come as a surprise. PSU took the opportunity to build five new classrooms, new stairwells, common space and a lobby in Ondine. The brace framing and massive steel plates used to “stiffen up” the building give the interior an urban look, Eckman said.

A loquacious table of freshmen who currently call the Ondine building home said they enjoy the new classrooms, dining hall and overall rejuvenation of the building. The structural concerns came as news to them.

“I think I would have lived here and felt just as safe,” said freshman Shasta Donovan, “None of us knew they were doing [construction] for that. It kind of makes me feel safer now that I know it’s safe.”

Dorais noted that the structural deficiencies of the building prior to the rehabilitation were definitely not a selling point when she moved in. She doesn’t believe it would have affected her desire to live there, however. “I would just hope I wasn’t on the sixth floor,” she said in the case of an earthquake. The purpose of the construction and design was unbeknownst to Dorais, who said, “I just thought they were going for an industrial look.”

When asked if students expressed concern about the structural updates Eckman noted that while students feel safer knowing about the reinforcement, it is not at the forefront of their thought.

“Most people won’t say ‘great new boiler,'” he said jokingly.

A recent Oregon law requires schools and universities to be safe from earthquakes by 2032 (passed in 2001 and 2002). The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) has been working with OUS since 2002 to complete a FEMA-based seismic study on the state’s university campuses, which make up half of all state-owned facilities in Oregon.

Scientists determined that the last Cascadia earthquake had a magnitude of 9 and occurred on Jan. 26, 1700. Geologic evidence confirms that future quakes are inevitable.