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St. Paul school will get $1.46 million for seismic upgrade

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School safety — State agency Business Oregon will disperse more than $50 million to outfit 41 schools to stand up to an earthquake


Students at St. Paul Elementary will experience a level of safety never before known after word came last week that a state agency had granted the school more than a million dollars for seismic upgrades to the school.

Business Oregon, the economic development branch of state government, and Senate President Peter Courtney, announced Thursday that 41 schools across the state will receive a total of more than $50 million in grants to fortify the schools against earthquakes. St. Paul Elementary, a 25,504-square-foot building constructed in 1961, will receive more than $1.46 million. The building is constructed of concrete masonry with a wood-framed roof structure, said Joe Wehrli, school superintendent. He added that the elementary school serves just more than 100 students, holds the district’s food service program that serves both the elementary and high schools, and is used for community events and performances. There is a staff of 20 teachers, instructional assistants, food service, custodians and office staff as well.

“This past May the St. Paul community approved a (general obligation) bond for construction projects in the district,” Wehrli said. “As a part of the research and background for presenting the proposal to the community a study was completed that indicated the need for seismic retrofitting to improve the safety of the elementary school. School board members were involved in the decision to apply for the grant to help support this need and discussed how best to utilize the funds if they were awarded.  The grant money will be used to make seismic upgrades to the building.”

“Today is a record-setting day, but we’re not finished. We’re not even close. Too many schools remain unsafe. Too many children remain at risk,” Courtney said.

The money came via a decision in the 2015 legislative session to sell $175 million in bonds to fund seismic safety grants for schools. Business Oregon received applications from 107 school districts seeking more than $123 million in funding; those schools that were not chosen last week will be rolled over into a second round of funding, expected to total $125 million.

Courtney remarked during a press conference Thursday that the large number of applicants is an indicator that the state must continue to fund the grant program at a high level. He expects, he added, to ask lawmakers during the 2017 session to approve an additional $200 million for the program.

“We’ve made more progress today than we made in the last decade, but we’re on borrowed time,” he said. “We can’t lose our momentum.”

There’s no discounting the need for seismic upgrades in schools. A 2007 survey, conducted by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, listed more than 1,000 school buildings in Oregon in danger of collapse in a major earthquake.

The need became even more acute in the early 1990s when geologists determined that the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon coast was of a sufficient size to trigger a catastrophic earthquake and that such an earthquake was likely in modern times because the most recent major quake occurred in 1700.