Architect Jesse Grant stepped in front of the assembled students at Central Elementary School on Wednesday and laid five wooden blocks on a table, stacked lengthwise like firewood.
He nudged the bottom block an inch or so to one side. The stack collapsed.
That, Grant told the students, is what could have happened at Central before a $1.5 million seismic retrofit last year anchored the building from top to bottom to make it safer in case of an earthquake.
“We basically put a skin on everything,” Grant explained, wrapping a strip of tape around the blocks on the table.
As the students craned their heads to watch, he poked the bottom block again. The structure shifted, but didn’t come apart.
“The whole building acts as one big piece, instead of a bunch of little pieces that fall down,” he summarized.
Grant was among about a dozen dignitaries visiting Central on Wednesday to celebrate last year’s retrofit, which was funded through a grant from the state’s Office of Emergency Management, and to encourage state lawmakers to fund more such grants. Funding decisions will be made later this spring.
According to a 2007 study by the Oregon Department. of Geology and Mineral Industries, more than 1,000 Oregon school buildings were considered to be at risk of collapsing during a major earthquake.
At Central, Ryan McGoldrick of the Red Cross handed out bags to each student to be used for emergency starter kits. The bags, provided by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, each contained lists of 10 necessities to pack for an emergency.
Christopher Goldfinger, an earthquake specialist with Oregon State University, gave a short presentation on earthquakes. He reminded students that Oregon is due for a quake of the magnitude that struck off the coast of Japan in 2011, causing a powerful tsunami and widespread destruction. Scientists are putting the chances at about 40 percent in the next 50 years.
“You guys may not be here when it happens. I may not be here when it happens,” he said. “But there will be one, for sure.”
Reinforcing the floors, walls, windows and exits of the 98-year-old Central building is one way of doing the necessary “homework” before such a quake hits, Goldfinger said. So is practicing earthquake drills, which the students did following the assembly.
Once all the homework is completed, Goldfinger said, if an earthquake strikes, “It just turns out to be a really exciting day. It may not be any worse than that.”