Seismically Sensitive Buildings in Green Lake

May 31, 2016 10:25am

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Recently Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections completed a pretty hefty task: cataloging all of the buildings in the city that are the most seismically sensitive.

These URMs (Unreinforced Masonry buildings) were built (mostly) before 1940 and lack the steel reinforcement and structural connections that may be needed to stand up to an earthquake. The inventory list done by the city confirms that there are 1,164 URM buildings, 21 of which are in Green Lake.

A quick pause to say that we are not alarmists here at Seattle Greenlaker, but we do think its important to know that there are buildings that are seismically sensitive in our neighborhood and what is being done to ensure safety in these buildings.

Green Lake URMs by the numbers: 

21 URMs in Green Lake. (One was demolished after the report was published.) By comparison, Capitol Hill has the most URMs in the city with more than 140.

Risk ratings on the buildings: 3 are critical, 5 are high risk and 13 are medium risk. The risk level is based on the amount of people allowed in the space, not the current state of the building. The Green Lake buildings are schools such as Hazel Wolf and Daniel Bagley Elementary School, but they also include restaurants, commercial-use and government buildings.

To find out more we connected with Bryan Stevens, a spokesperson for Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

SG: Why was this report published? 

BS: After the 2001 Nisqually quake, 2/3 of the buildings damaged and deemed not safe to enter were URM structures. Over the last few years we’ve been working with a group of technical and policy committee members to work towards developing requirements for seismic upgrades to these buildings. We’re looking at upgrades which reduce the risk of collapse in the event of the moderate and more frequent quakes, like the Nisqually. Currently, upgrades are only required when major renovations are planned. Without that, upgrades only occur on a voluntary basis.
We understand that there can also be a major financial cost, which impacts landlords, businesses and residents. Considering these challenges, we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in our approach to developing legislation. Also, we don’t want to encourage demolition of these character buildings…something Los Angeles encountered with their mandatory program.

SG: Is there a time table for when the legislation is going to be adopted or approved?

BS: We are working to reconvene the policy committee to present the findings of the most recent URM report. We don’t expect draft legislation until 2017.

SG: Anything else you think Greenlakers should know?

BS: This isn’t just a Seattle issue, this is a statewide issue. URMs exist in small towns and larger cities. We are continuing to work with Representative Pettigrew and other legislators on raising awareness at the state level.

For more information on the report or the timeline and scope, go to the city’s URM homepage.