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KLCC News is covering many aspects of Oregon's May 2016 Primary Election. View KLCC's primary related stories below.OREGON PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS

Why Make Eugene City Hall Earthquake Safe?

Rowell Brokaw Architects

The Cascadia subduction zone is likely to rupture sometime in the next 50 years causing major devastation to the northwest. Eugene leaders may decide this week whether to spend extra money to build the new City Hall to withstand an earthquake.

The projected cost of a new Eugene City Hall has grown to almost $25 million. That’s about 7 million above original estimates. Project Manager Mike Penwell says part of that budget would upgrade the building’s seismic resiliency.
Penwell: “That’s specifically designed to survive a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake.”
Penwell says that upgrade would cost 1 million dollars. He says there is enough money in the city’s risk fund to cover it. At a recent City Council Work Session there was some disagreement about whether the extra cost is necessary. Councilor George Poling:
Poling: “Right now I’m kind of torn about whether I’m in favor of spending that extra money for the top-of-the-line seismic upgrade but then again I can see the value of doing that long term.”
Others pointed out the expense is worth it. Councilor Chris Pryor:
Pryor: “You don’t want to build a building with the expectation that it would fall down. So, to me, that’s a million dollars well spent.”
Given the chances of a major earthquake hitting Oregon, it’s hard to understand why the city would consider not paying for the seismic upgrades. The state is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to schools and critical facilities like fire stations
A City Hall isn’t considered critical, but it is a place where people will seek help after a disaster.
Mike Penwell, points last year’s New Yorker article, which spelled out the real urgency of earthquake preparedness.
Penwell: “The big subduction zone earthquakes come every 3 to 600 years according to the geologic record. We passed the 300 year mark a while ago. So, you know it’s going to come at some point.”
Andre Barbosa is an assistant Professor of structural engineering at OSU.
Barbosa: “For resiliency, that piece is very important. That something like the city hall can be back and operational very quickly after the earthquake so that that’s where decisions are going to be made.”
Some candidates for Eugene Mayor and City Council have balked at the budget, citing the seismic upgrades as an unnecessary expense. Chris Wig, who’s running for City Council, said this at a recent debate:
Wig: “I do not support the seismic upgrades on the new City hall project. I think it sends the absolute wrong message when our city hall where our council and our city manager meet, have a seismic standing that exceeds that which our schoolchildren are in every single day.”
Semple: “The argument is that this is a 100 year building when that earthquake comes we will be building so many things again that this won’t really matter.”
Council candidate Emily Semple.  
The Eugene City Council meets again Wednesday to talk about City Hall. They’ll get an update on possible funding sources for the cost overruns, above and beyond the proposed seismic upgrades. The $1 million for those are already in hand in the city’s risk fund.

Copyright 2016 KLCC.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s former News Director. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000. After reporting for the Northwest News Network and KAZU, Rachael returned to KLCC in 2007 as Morning Edition host and a general assignment reporter covering politics, the environment, education, and the arts. She was hired as KLCC News Director in 2018. Rachael departed KLCC in June, 2022.
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