Ocosta School District to break ground on groundbreaking tsunami structure

School_designThe Ocosta School District kicks off construction of a new elementary school that will double as the nation’s first tsunami refuge with a groundbreaking ceremony in Westport Thursday.

Thanks to a voter-approved construction bond measure, the coastal school district will build its new school with a 30-foot tall gymnasium that will be able to withstand both a megathrust earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off shore and the pounding of tsunami waves.

A groundbreaking ceremony will start at 1 p.m. at the Ocosta Elementary School, 2580 S. Montesano St., Westport. A reception will follow in the community gym.

When built, more than 1,000 people will be able to gather atop the gymnasium for refuge from tsunami waves.

Westport sits just 25 feet above sea level and, like other coastal communities, is vulnerable to tsunamis, particularly those that might stem from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 600-mile-long fault that runs from northern California to Vancouver Island.

The Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ) at the boundary between the subducting Juan de Fuca plate and the North American plate.
The Cascadia subduction zone (CSZ) at the boundary
between the subducting Juan de Fuca plate and the North American

The school, next to Ocosta Junior/Senior High School, sits on a peninsula connected to the mainland by a bridge that would likely be damaged by a Cascadia quake.

Students, faculty, and staff, as well as nearby residents, could flee to the building’s upper-level if a tsunami hit the Washington coast. By placing the earthquake-resilient building atop a small hill, the rooftop haven will sit about 55 feet above sea level, well above the tallest surges predicted for the school site.

“If a tsunami were to strike, there wouldn’t be much time to get to higher ground,” said Tim Walsh, chief hazards geologist for the Washington State Geologic Survey. “So we wanted to find a way to make higher ground closer to the coast.”

Walsh was part of the team that helped design the structure. The gymnasium and refuge was designed by Degenkolb Engineers and TCF Architecture, through the efforts of Project Safe Haven, which was launched by the Washington State Emergency Management Division in response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Tohoku, Japan. Construction is expected to be completed by this time next year.
Construction was made possible by local voters, who approved a $13.8 million bond issue to build the school and refuge in 2013.

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