Earthquack: Seismic upgrades on Oregon campus cost millions

EUGENE, Ore. - Scientists say it's not a matter of if but when a subduction zone earthquake will next rattle the Pacific Northwest.

The Oregon Resilience Plan says the state's infrastructure is in danger unless action is taken.

At the University of Oregon, a multi-million dollar project aims to perform seismic retrofits on the university's historic buildings.

"We still have a lot of work in front of us because we have a large historic stock of buildings that need to be upgraded over time," said Darin Dehle, director of capital construction at UO.

Dehle said unreinforced brick and masonry buildings are pretty but pose a danger.

"If the building starts to shake in an earthquake, the bricks start to work independently and it tears itself apart," he said.

At Fenton Hall, engineers came up with a new steel skeleton and stabilizing system. A window in the wall provide a glimpse at how they did it.

"That skeleton structure then takes the force of the earthquake rather than the brick taking the force of the earthquake," Dehle said.

"It's one of our star models of how to take an old historical building and put a new superstructure inside," said Andre Le Duc, enterprise risk services director at UO.

Similar work is in progress at Straub Hall near the Erb Memorial Union.

But seismic upgrades aren't cheap.

Renovating Straub Hall is projected to cost $22 million.

The Fenton Hall upgrade was $5.5 million.

Next in line will be Chapman Hall at $10.5 million.

It's expensive work, but officials said it's vital for safety and for preserving history.

"These are buildings that are part of the State of Oregon's legacy," said Chris Ramey, associate vice president of campus design. "They are historic resources to Oregon and are certainly important to the campus."