Is that our school? Earthquake work on district campuses includes lots of ripping and tearing

Sean C. Morgan

of The New Era

During some prime summer weather in Sweet Home last week, if school were in session, students at Holley Elementary School might have enjoyed some open-air classroom time – except that contractors were busy inside them.

The exterior walls of two classrooms in the main building were completely opened up last week as contractors working for Gerding Builders and the Sweet Home School District swarmed the building to reinforce it for earthquakes and to remodel and expand space inside the school.

Holley is one of three major projects under way this summer. District staff and Gerding are also remodeling and building additions to Sweet Home Junior High and completing seismic upgrades and remodeling Foster Elementary School.

It’s a lot to tackle at once, and Facilities Director Josh Darwood said people keep asking him why the district is doing all three projects at once.

“Ideally, we would have scheduled one major project per summer for three years,” Darwood said. “However, Foster and Holley seismic upgrades are being funded by two grants totaling $3 million that must be spent by this fall. The junior high school renovation project is being partly funded by a $4 million grant that must be spent by next spring.

“Essentially, it’s use it or lose it with the money.

“We thought we were busy last summer with the seismic and security upgrades at Hawthorne Elementary School. That’s nothing compared to what we are getting done right now.”

The district has more than 100 contractors, subcontractors and district personnel working on the three projects this summer, he said. “We’re hopeful that the construction work is having a positive impact on the local economy. Most of the contractors and subcontractors are from Linn and Benton counties.”

In all three locations, district staff and contractors are handling different portions of the projects. Gerding is responsible for the $3 million in seismic upgrades at Holley and Foster, while the district is focused on renovating portions of the schools and adding secure entrances with magnetically locking doors.

With Gerding working on the seismic upgrades, “now is a good time to make some extra school improvements,” Darwood said. “It is much more cost-effective to complete work when the building is opened up.”

The district expanded the scope of the junior high project along the way for similar reasons.

The two teams are coordinating their schedules and working well together, said Gerding Site Supt. Matt James of North Albany. James oversees the seismic projects at Foster and Holley.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge, but it’s been real good. Dealing with Josh and Kevin (Strong, district business manager) has been a piece of cake. I put out a master schedule, and they’ve got their own schedule. We’ve had to combine them.”

It’s a massive undertaking, he said. The builders had just 10½ weeks to tear down and rebuild at Holley and Foster.

Darwood said the reconstruction turned out to be especially important at Holley.

“Once we started taking these blocks apart, (it turned out) there wasn’t much holding this up.”

Workers were able to push blocks out by hand, James said. “That was a little scary for us. It’s a very good thing they did this at this school.”

Foster was a different story, James said. It had wood framing, and the glass-block windows were more secure as well.

Many of the walls at Holley were constructed with non-reinforced masonry blocks, Darwood said. Those are vulnerable to collapse during an earthquake.

To meet seismic life-safety standards, contractors are building new load-bearing walls using lumber and plywood, Darwood said. “Wood-frame construction has many advantages over other construction types in an earthquake. Wood-frame buildings can flex, absorbing and dissipating energy when subjected to seismic forces. It’s a different story for unreinforced masonry buildings. Masonry walls are heavy and brittle. In an earthquake, unreinforced masonry walls can crack and crumble, posing a significant life-safety risk to building occupants, especially if the roof structure pulls away from the walls.”

In many cases, the contractors are adding the wood-frame walls, shear walls, along the masonry walls to serve as a brace for the masonry walls to counter the effects of lateral movement caused by an earthquake.

The blocks will stay, but they’ll be attached, James said. New walls will extend into the roofing, transferring the “shear” force up into the roof. With everything tied together, it will help hold the entire building together during a quake.

Contractors are replacing exterior walls with wood-frame walls.

The new load-bearing walls at Holley are taking time, pushing back the schedule when drywall can be installed and finish carpentry can begin, Darwood said.

Gerding is replacing glass in block windows at Holley and Foster, Darwood said, because the glass blocks can explode during a major earthquake.

Gerding also is upgrading the roof systems with additional plywood decking

The project will enclose two outside covered areas at Holley. In front, the space will become a security vestibule similar to the one added last summer at Hawthorne. A portion of the front office will be located where the school’s front porch was. Also being enclosed, the breezeway in the back will provide extra space, providing Holley a cafeteria.

The cafeteria will feature a “wraparound view” toward the Upper Calapooia area, Strong said, and no longer will the school’s gym double as a cafeteria.

After lunch, “I can’t get in there fast enough to clean it,” said Penny Brown, custodian, who must immediately have the gym ready for PE classes.

The remodel includes a sink for the health room, and it provides an additional multi-purpose room.

Strong said Holley was built in 1949, after a fire destroyed the original school. It did not have the southeast or west wings at the time.

Improvements are largely on schedule at Foster, Darwood said. The project includes seismic upgrades and a new security vestibule.

The new front office and entrance on the east side of the building is designed to maximize surveillance and access control into and out of the school through the new vestibule, and parents will pick up their students on the east end of the building from Poplar Street.

The project includes a new health room, a counseling office, a new classroom, a new corridor to access the east side of the school and improve access between the school and the gym, a new staff room where staff can see who is approaching the school and new energy efficient windows and doors.

The Junior High project is progressing on schedule, Darwood said. The new parking area and bus loop are scheduled for completion by the time school begins. New windows will be in place and drywall will be complete in the school’s existing classrooms, but work on the new gymnasium, cafeteria, office area and front entrance will continue until spring 2020.

“It’s great to be accomplishing so much work right now,” Darwood said. “I’m impressed by the work that Gerding, our contractor, is accomplishing along with the subcontractors and our crew working together. Students will benefit by having safer and more secure learning environments.

“We’re going to have buildings that can keep kids safer.”