By editorial board • 

Buildings need bracing before coming quake

McMinnville finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place — and it might require a mere seismic shrug to inflict a crushing impact.

Local firefighters moved into a new downtown station in 1987, six years before the Spring Break Quake taught a stern lesson on the need to prepare buildings to withstand tremors. While the fire station survived intact, it hasn’t yet been retrofitted to codes Oregon imposed in 1998.

The next quake — particularly the dreaded Cascadia Subduction Zone quake predicted to devastate the Pacific Northwest, may not prove as merciful. And in a crisis, it’s vital the local firefighting force not be buried under tons of rubbles.

City Manager Jeff Towery told the city council Tuesday that taking care of all building and maintenance needs at the fire station over the next 20 years, while also bringing it up to seismic codes, could cost up to two and a half times the price of a new building.

What are the chances voters would expend millions of dollars for a new station just 32 years after funding construction of the existing one? Then again, what are the chances they would want to spend even more money to bring the existing one up to seismic codes? Similar dilemmas face private property owners when financial feasibility requires demolition/replacement instead of renovation.

Fortuitously, the department’s building issues may not be solely a city problem much longer, as plans are underway to create a unified fire district encompassing McMinnville and surrounding cities. In that event, the district’s board must determine how to upgrade or replace the fire station.

Fire Chief Rich Leipfert has said previously that downtown is no longer the ideal location for department headquarters, as the congested location lengthens response times. Presumably, downtown citing would be even less feasible for a district serving a broad swath of the county.

The situation poses a challenge, and not just for firefighters, city councilors and potential fire board members. It posts a challenge for everyone who enjoys the prospect of living through a major emergency.

The situation illustrates the problem the city has with facilities in general. It points to the need for a citywide facilities master plan.

Many city buildings have needs looming over the next five to 20 years. To address them in anything more than a haphazard fashion, officials need to examine building standards in a comprehensive way.

Fortunately, funds have already been set aside in the 2019-20 city budget for development of such a plan, and councilors already seem supportive.

The plan can serve as a road map through rocky terrain, but hard decisions lie ahead for local leaders. We can only hope they meet the challenge, as the consequences of falling short could prove catastrophic.

 

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