Campus is structurally sound following earthquake

February 28, 2001

Lacey, Wash.- Like much of the rest of the South Sound, Saint Martin's college was shaken, but miraculously emerged virtually unscathed from the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that hit near Olympia Wednesday.

"There was obviously and rightly so a tremendous amount of fear but our building came through in far better shape than a lot of Seattle and most of Olympia," David Spangler, the college president, said Thursday morning. "We didn't lose a single brick or window and there's no evidence of any movement of the structure."

"If this building was not safe, there is no way we would have resumed classes," said Spangler, a licensed structural dynamics civil engineer.

Phone and electric service were uninterrupted by Wednesday's event. Preliminary damage reports indicate that Old Main, the oldest and largest building on the college campus, took the brunt of the earthquake's force showing cracks in the interior plaster finish as evidence of what it survived.

Students were evacuated following Wednesday's shake and the campus was closed so engineers with the City of Lacey could inspect the campus.

The campus has measures in place to respond and handle emergency or crisis situations. The college's professional counseling staff has been made available for assistance and food service has gone uninterrupted.

Sodexho Marriott Services, the campus' provider of food services, had lunch ready to serve to students soon after the quake hit.

Kevin Scott, general manager of Sodexho, said they are prepared to sustain the campus for three days following a major crisis.

"We keep food for the campus community and equipment like Bunsen burners to help prepare food if there's a loss of electricity," Scott said.

"The city came in to do their studies and made the determination that the campus was sound for reopening," said Spangler. "They felt comfortable with us reopening and suggested a structural engineer to come by and take a look as well."

All of the campus buildings built over the past decade meet the city's seismic code regulations, according to Spangler. Old Main has areas that meet the standards and has been scheduled to undergo upgrades this summer. Enhancements to the existing structure will be made to improve its integrity. The plans have already been approved by the city and design elements are being awaited.

Engineers with Chalker, Putnam, Collins & Scott, Inc. will be on campus early next week to recommend whether the cracks in the plaster should be covered now or wait until the summer upgrades. The Tacoma-based firm is the same that was contracted in 1999 to do the seismic upgrades on Old Main this summer. One of the things they will determine is if any upgrades should be done in addition to what has already been planned or if it would be possible to start ahead of schedule.

What also seemed reassuring is the fact that the hill the college sits on is a unique one.

The hill where the campus rests is composed of geologic residual, which provides it with a hard foundation, as opposed to the spongy foundations of sediment-based centers found in downtown Olympia and Seattle.

"The college was built on a hill because that's the Benedictine tradition," said Father John Scott, O.S.B. "Both that tradition and nature have provided a rocky hill that is a sturdy place for us."

Wednesday's quake is the third major one that Old Main has survived. The main wing, which was constructed in 1913, and west wing, constructed in 1920, both survived the earthquakes of 1949 and 1965, which registered magnitudes of 7.1 and 6.5 respectively.

Father John, a professor of history at the college and local historian will never forget where he was during both prior quakes and now this third one.

"I was a 4-year-old boy living in Fort Lewis when the '49 quake hit. Back then it was a free carnival ride," Father John said. "I was a sophomore working in the registrar's office when the '65 one hit. I remember the building feeling really wobbly and racing downstairs to the courtyard."

Father John said even then, minimal damages were sustained.

"I lived in Baran Hall (residence hall) and one of the residents had a goldfish bowl with two fish in it," Father John recalled. "One of the fish had been thrown from the bowl during the shaking and it died. It was the only casualty we had."

Father John had left his third-floor office in Old Main just 10 minutes prior to the quake.

"This was less fun than '49 and less dramatic than the one in '65," he mused. "But it's interesting to see how it brought the community together. Philosophically, it showed us how impermanent everything is.

"In less than a minute our beliefs that we're invincible were shaken and our humanity showed through," Father John said referring to the many people he saw around campus comforting one another and attempting to ease one-another's nerves.

For more information:
Christina Ramirez-Milhoan, communications specialist
Office of Communication