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Report: $1B Needed To Retrofit Seattle Buildings

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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According to Seattle’s National Development Council, in its most recent Funding Unreinforced Masonry Retrofits report, vital earthquake safety fixes have been estimated to cost $1.28 billion.

The report involves 944 unreinforced masonry buildings, which house approximately 22,050 people.

Seattle Retrofit History

Plans to mandate retrofitting Seattle go as far back as the 1970s, when legislation failed trying to approve new building policies. However, according to the city’s Funding URM Retrofit Report, a URM Policy Committee was established in 2012 in order to begin developing recommendations for Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections through a mandatory URM seismic retrofit program.

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According to the City of Seattle’s National Development Council, in its most recent Funding Unreinforced Masonry Retrofits report, vital earthquake safety fixes have been estimated to cost $1.28 billion.

Though legislation was expected the year following establishment of the committee, a mandate for retrofits was repeatedly postponed, while a ninth economic analysis since the '70s had been ordered instead, reported The Seattle Times.

It wouldn’t be until July 2017 when the SDCI would receive recommendations for unreinforced masonry structures (which to date, still haven’t been enacted). At the time, the only laws mandating retrofits were when a building was undergoing a remodel or significant changes, which then required owners to bring the structure up to current earthquake codes.

In February 2018, The Seattle Times reported that there were more than 1,100 buildings likely to topple in the event of an earthquake. With the city sitting in the proximity of three faults, finding an efficient way to pay for these necessary upgrades was becoming an “urgent issue.”

“This is not the first time we have tried this,” Seattle Emergency Management Director Barb Graff told the City Council. “The biggest step is to identify some combination of financing mechanisms so that this time we succeed.”

In the conclusion of the article, city officials claimed that they wouldn’t be able to have any draft legislation on mandatory retrofits until 2019—and not before they could create a package of financial incentives.

By July 2018, the NDC became involved, helping to identify potential funding and financing options, especially for property owners facing financial difficulties related to what would be new requirements.

The following month, KIRO 7 reported that advocacy group Historic Seattle suggested having developers on new projects help cover the cost of retrofitting older brick buildings. At the time, the average cost of retrofitting a building was $50 per square foot.

What’s Happening Now

Although the cost report gives Seattle an idea of the road ahead, the city has still only taken a small step toward applying necessary updates.

“Now it’s about diving into the details of what a policy change could look like,” Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections spokesperson Bryan Stevens said. “You’re dealing with balancing life safety issues with the cost of making those improvements and the concern over displacement of tenants.”

According to Chuck Depew, senior director of the NDC, there needs to be a combination of public and private resources in order to put the report into action. As a example, suggested a combination of federal and state tax credits, FEMA grants, various funding, local philanthropy and private loans.

While a new policy is still a long way away, DCI hopes that new recommendations in how to pay for the upgrades will be sent to the mayor by the end of this year. However, the Seattle City Council was expected to discuss these new policies during the first quarter of this year.

Retrofitting Other Quake-Risk Cities

In April 2016, PaintSquare Daily News reported on the threat of damaging earthquakes in the Central U.S. are like those in tremblor-heavy California, based from a recent government report.

In addition to including human-induced quakes for the first time, this was also the first one-year outlook United States Geological Survey had issued for the nation’s earthquake hazards; it supplemented existing USGS assessments and provided a 50-year forecast.

In November 2017, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety began sending compliance orders to property owners, with around 13,500 properties in the city in need of retrofitting including older concrete structures, as well as wood-framed buildings, informing them of their seismic retrofitting requirements regarding a recently adopted ordinance.

Almost a year later, in July 2018, San Francisco was reported to have dozens of at-risk high-rises if a major earthquake were to occur, according to a USGS report. By October of the same year, the city posed tighter building codes for high-rises inspired by a study, “Tall Buildings Safety Strategy,” which called for inspection and retrofitting of existing tall buildings, coupled with stronger regulations for new ones.

Most recently, Chicago announced major updates to the city’s building codes, which included the adoption of seismic design requirements for critical facilities such as hospitals and fire stations and some taller buildings. The changes are slated to be phased in gradually beginning June 1 and completely replace the current code by Aug. 1, 2020.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Building operations; Building owners; Disasters; Funding; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Maintenance programs; Masonry; NA; North America; PaintSquare App - Commercial; Retrofits; Safety

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