Memorial seismic upgrade, more construction predicted

Shelly Le

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Though the last major earthquake to hit Walla Walla was in 1936 and seismic activity in the region remains fairly low, Whitman construction managers aren’t taking any chances. This summer, Whitman seismically upgraded Memorial, making the building more structurally sound in the event of an earthquake.

Credit: David Jacobson

The upgrade is the second part of a multiphase construction project affecting several different buildings on campus. The first part of this project was the seismic upgrade of Memorial’s clock tower last summer.

According to Peter Harvey, Whitman’s treasurer and chief financial officer, the upgrade was long needed.

“Memorial is over a hundred years old, and a risk with buildings like this is that in the event of an earthquake, bricks can fall off and they weren’t designed in a way to prevent that from happening,” he said.

Over the summer, an exterior wall was placed around the foundation of the building, providing a perimeter wall to hold the foundation together. The exterior was also cleaned and the mortar around the bricks was re-grouted.

Jeff Donahue, construction project manager, says that the construction team has been looking into other buildings on campus that are “unreinforced masonry buildings”: Prentiss and Lyman Halls among them.

“[Prentiss and Lyman] are on the plan to be worked on in the future,” Donahue said.

According to Donahue, the stairwell next to the Lyman kitchen was reinforced this summer. This was the first of future upgrades of other unreinforced buildings on campus.

“What we’re doing in Lyman is [building] a shear to keep the stairwell together,” he said.

Harvey anticipates more large and visible upgrades in Memorial and in the residence halls. He also predicted some simple projects, like installing more energy efficient light fixtures and new heating and cooling systems in administrative and academic buildings.

The total cost for the two projects this summer was a little over a million dollars. Funds were taken from the college’s operating budget.

Despite the cost, Donahue believes that preserving these buildings on campus is essential to maintaining the Whitman culture.

“I think that [Memorial] is the icon of Whitman College,” he said. “You need to preserve these things, these are history.”

 

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