Jun 9, 2022 - Politics

School earthquake retrofits could cost $1 billion

Illustration of a hundred dollar bill with an earthquake crack down the middle.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Washington's legislature approved $100 million earlier this year to help upgrade schools to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.

Yes, but: That money is likely to pay for about one-tenth of the work that is needed, a key lawmaker recently told Axios.

Why it matters: Washington is due for a big earthquake, and many of the state's schools aren't prepared, putting tens of thousands of students at risk.

By the numbers: State Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) estimates about a $1 billion price tag to move all vulnerable Washington schools out of high-risk tsunami zones and retrofit schools that face the highest risk from earthquakes.

  • About 70% of the state's 4,400 schools are located in high-risk earthquake zones, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
  • Roughly 700 schools were built before 1960, and it's unclear how much they've been updated, if at all.

What they're saying: A retrofit can range from $500,000 to several million dollars depending on a building's construction, age, and other factors, said Tyler Muench, a policy and outreach coordinator with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

  • "Based on these factors it is very difficult to predict how far the funding will go," Muench wrote in an email to Axios.

Zoom out: Oregon and British Columbia have in recent years put substantially more money toward preparing their schools for natural disasters, Frockt said.

  • "I think it’s pretty clear we are behind the curve," said Frockt, who worked to secure the $100 million in this year's capital construction budget.
  • Frockt originally hoped to spend $400 million or $500 million.
  • While the $100 million was a compromise, it's still more than the state has ever spent on school earthquake retrofits in a single budget cycle.

What's next: A new state law, Senate Bill 5933, directs an expert panel to help make a list of which schools should see upgrades first.

  • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction must submit that list to the governor by Sept. 1, a process that will repeat each year with the remaining schools.
  • Frockt, who's retiring at the end of the year, said he hopes legislators continue to put more money toward earthquake-proofing schools.
  • That's a goal that the Senate's lead budget writer, Sen. Christine Rolfes, said she shares.

What we're watching: There's no guarantee that the legislature will continue spending hundreds of millions of dollars on retrofitting schools, making it uncertain whether all schools will get the funding they need down the line.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Seattle.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Seattle stories

No stories could be found

Seattlepostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Seattle.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more