By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Azalea Middle School is undergoing a seismic safety retrofit this summer, according district officials. Contractors will reinforce building infrastructure, remove many large windows and make sure that brickwork is tied into the walls correctly, according to district documents.

Superintendent Sean Gallagher said the current construction at Azalea and last year’s work at Kalmiopsis Elementary School will ensure these buildings stand long enough during an earthquake for all occupants to escape. He said this level of safety is called “Life Safety,” and later grants will retrofit areas in the schools for immediate occupancy (IO).

IO areas must withstand an earthquake and provide safe shelter for survivors. Larger rooms like gyms, cafeterias and chorus or band rooms are candidates for IO spaces, according to Gallagher.

“It’s a matter of time before we experience a major earthquake here,” he said. “So safety is always our main concern. Next summer, the plan is to complete another seismic project at Brookings-Harbor High School.”

The district will address larger, interior areas with a grant to create IO spaces, Gallagher said. “Those areas will include the Azalea gym and areas needing to be finished on the high school.”

Updates at Azalea will properly connect everything from the roof to the foundation to prevent a major collapse in the event of an earthquake, according to Gallagher. He pointed to newly installed metal braces at the tops and bottoms of exposed walls and bolts joining the base of the walls to cement foundations. The framing between walls has also been reinforced with multiple braces.

He said the metal braces and bearing plates will keep the walls from buckling inward or outward, and the preexisting shiplap siding – which was installed diagonally – and newly installed schedule-1 plywood will protect the building from shearing.

A district press release said the work requires many of the walls and ceilings be opened.

This will enable the district to reconfigure the classrooms for more modern and varied teaching styles and also allow the wiring to be updated and placed behind the walls, Gallagher said.

He said wiring was previously in conduit attached to the outside of classroom and office walls.

District Public Information Officer Nancy Raskauskas-Coons said students will return to fresh paint, new fixtures, improved lighting, better ventilation systems and new showers in the locker room.

Documents and structural changes show windows in most rooms reduced from eight to four and the additional exterior wall space insulated and covered with anti-shearing plywood.

Gallagher said having less windows will reduce the “hot-box” effect in the summer and keep the room warmer in the winter. Additionally, the lighting will be more controlled and even and teachers will be able to use projectors and multimedia presentations more effectively.

Plans also call for two buildings at Azalea to receive new roofs.

Current construction is two weeks ahead of published schedules. According to Gallagher this and some positive surprises, like the shiplap and some already existing bolts and braces might allow the district to fix or improve additional areas related to the retrofit.

The school district has received about $4.5 million in grants from Business Oregon for the safety projects, according to Coons. The program provides money for construction on schools

and other critical public buildings to prepare the structures for an earthquake.

Gallagher said the money for these retrofits comes from Business Oregon’s Infrastructure Finance Authority and General Obligation Bonds approved by the state legislature.

“These grants extend the lives of these buildings by 40 or 50 years,” he said. “And without taxpayer expense.”

Most schools building are only built to last about 40 years, he added.

District reports state project management is provided by Darryl Anderson of Anderson Engineering and Surveying, and design, engineering and construction is in partnership with the Ausland Group.

Multiple local subcontractors and worker are employed at the school and Gallagher said construction for seismic retrofitting will take place on the high school in 2019.

Gallagher walks the site every day because “The construction needs to be seen by an educator. Someone has to make sure that all of the changes enhance teaching and that none of them are detrimental to education.”

Reach Boyd C. Allen at .