‘Fix the bricks’: Are you on the list? City edges closer to ordering quake-safety retrofits for unreinforced-masonry buildings

(WSB file photo of one of the smaller West Seattle buildings on the list, at Highland Park Playground)

For years, the issue of ordering earthquake-safety retrofits for unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings has been simmering in Seattle. Our archives show a local presentation about it at a community meeting almost 10 years ago. At that time, it was estimated that Seattle had at least 1,000 URM buildings, including more than 50 in West Seattle. Now the topic is bubbling back up. For one, the city has just updated its list of what’s now an estimated 1,100 URM buildings – you can see the list here. (A quick search finds 44 addresses on the list containing SW, signifying they’re in West Seattle. Also, here’s a less-up-to-date map.) The list accompanies this city-website update saying the city intends to finalize an ordinance next year to mandate the retrofits. Before that ordinance is drafted and finalized, the city has created four “working groups” to tackle different aspects of the process, and is inviting participation. Here’s what they’ll work on:

*Development of a minimum retrofit standard to increase the life safety of unreinforced masonry buildings. The Technical Briefing Working Group has been established to provide input and ask questions prior to finalization of the standard currently in development by SDCI. The draft technical standard will be available spring 2023.

*Development of funding resources to increase capacity of URM building owners to invest in resilience. The Funding Working Group has been established to identify grants, credits, and financing available to support earthquake retrofits.

*Development of resources to support URM building owner and tenant needs during the retrofit process. The Owner and Tenant Needs Working Group has been established to mitigate tenant displacement, to support and guide building owners, and meet the needs of underserved stakeholders.

*Development of clear and accessible communications on the need for earthquake retrofits and compliance requirements of the ordinance. The Communications Working Group has been established to develop a comprehensive communication strategy.

If you’re interested in participating in any of those groups, the city update also has info on who to contact,

5 Replies to "'Fix the bricks': Are you on the list? City edges closer to ordering quake-safety retrofits for unreinforced-masonry buildings"

  • Shaken not Stirred February 2, 2023 (4:41 pm)

    I am dumfounded that Seattle has not yet acted to address our deadly stock of unreinforced brick buildings.  

    California did this after the Northridge Quake in 1994.
    I lived through that and numerous others including the Whittier quake of 1997.  

    By comparison, the 2001 Nisqually earthquake (yes I was here to experience it and before that the 1965 Seattle quake) was less than aftershocks of those in California and failed to scare Seattle to action.  

    Remarkably,  San Francisco’s Loma Prieta 1989  event was cited as justification for tearing down the viaduct, but not to address unsafe brick buildings. 
    I won’t proclaim, “the sky is falling,” 
    but I will proclaim, “there is a Big One in our future that we are ill prepared for.”

  • Sarah February 2, 2023 (8:29 pm)

    Oh, what do you know? Gatewood Elementary is on there as a critical risk. I mentioned my concern in front of a fellow Gatewood parent a few years ago, who immediately condescended to me about how other kids in the district (she’s a district employee) had it even worse and it was privileged to be concerned about this when there were so many other inequities. To be clear, those are also important but yeah, still a problem that the 100-year-old brick school could crumble to dust in a moderate earthquake. 

    • John February 3, 2023 (11:50 am)

      I was actually at gatewood for the nisqually earthquake. I’m not saying necessarily that action doesn’t need to be taken to reinforce things I am somewhat surprised that nothing’s been done in the meantime. However what I’ll tell you now is don’t let them talk you into a tax to pay for it 57% of property taxes or 3.7 billion dollars just in King county is supposed to be going to the schools

  • Don Brubeck February 3, 2023 (8:01 am)

    Information about Seattle Public Schools seismic retrofit program is here: https://www.seattleschools.org/departments/capital-projects-and-planning/facilities-master-plan/seismic-information/The list shows Gatewood last had work done in 2017. 

  • Kat B February 3, 2023 (11:49 am)

    Why are buildings on the list if they have already undergone “Permitted Retrofit”? And how does that differ from “Substantial Alteration”?

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