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JULES ROGERS - Gemmell said its too large to make a retrofit economically viable and will likely be demolished - he bid on one that size before, and it was never finished.“This one won’t pencil out, it’s toast,” said Steve Gemmell, owner of Earthquake Tech. “It’ll cost a chunk of cash, all customized. This one doesn’t pencil out.”


Gemmell, whose contracting business retrofits buildings with seismic upgrades, points to the brick Asia American antiques and furniture store, a historic building located at 79 S.E. Taylor St., which could soon be required to make partial upgrades under a new city proposal.

The proposed draft developed by the Portland URM Seismic Retrofit Project would require 1,800 unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs) to be systematically updated over a period of time, to increase safety and resiliency against a quake. The Portland Development Commission has held public forums on the matter to collect input, and the seismic committee intends to finalize the draft to bring before the city council by the end of the year.

The city has posted a database online of the nearly 1,800 buildings believed to be made of unreinforced masonry, which could be slated for upgrades if the proposal is approved. The Business Tribune took a walk around the Central Eastside Industrial District with Gemmell of Portland-based Earthquake Tech to eyeball the procedures and costs of the seismic upgrades that could soon be required.

Gemmell said the masonry buildings could be made from concrete blocks, bricks, clay blocks or a combination of those, and could be covered in stucco.

“When you see stucco, you start to wonder if it’s block,” Gemmell said. “The weakness with anything unreinforced is, nothing is going to keep it, from going (down).”

According to the city, breaking parapets and detaching walls are the main vulnerabilities of unreinforced masonry buildings.

Full upgrades

Taylor’s Railworks restaurant at 117 S.E. Taylor St. is tagged by the city for full upgrades. The building is also historic.

“This one’s framed out in pretty decent timber,” Gemmell said. “You could create a roof diaphragm on top.”

JULES ROGERS - The historic Taylors Railway building is tagged for full seismic upgrades.To upgrade this building fully, Gemmell said it would need reinforced diaphragms on the second and third floors attached to the diaphragm on the roof to keep the walls together and support lateral loads.

“We typically use steel, it’s a great system to use,” Gemmell said. “We’d reinforce the walls using the steel system that attaches floor to floor, and put in big chunks of concrete.”

The concrete footings anchor the building’s walls and ceiling together.

“What we want to do here first is put in the footings,” Gemmell said. “A concrete foundation that will absorb all the energy transferred through the steel system on through the massive concrete to hold it in place. We’d put steel braces in to connect it to the concrete.”

He also recommends moment frames, or beams and columns assembled in lines to rigidly connect to each other, providing resistance to lateral forces.

“They’re made to take on that lateral stress earthquakes put on buildings,” Gemmell said.

Near the top of the building’s facade, there’s a break in the paint job showing where the parapet begins.

“It doesn’t show the ugly flat roof,” Gemmell said. “They’re swaying in the wind, nothing but brick.”

To fix parapets, Gemmell would attach iron brackets in place every 32 inches or so.

“The easiest way to bring it up to requirements is the steel system, but the building itself will still take a shock and cost a lot to repair,” Gemmell said.

Beside the steel system, another option for reinforcement is to use a sticky expanding foam.

“Expanding foam adheres the structure’s walls to every single brick in a building,” Gemmell said. “It’s a closed cell of expanding foam, it’s there to take loads, it’s there to maintain.”

He would create a foundation in the walls by adding plywood two inches out from the original bricks and filling the gap with the foam.

JULES ROGERS - Steve Gemmell, owner of Earthquake Tech, points out how stucco can cover masonry on a building the city has tagged as a dangerous URM along Southeast Second Avenue.“Because it’s closed cell versus open cell it has memory, so when you push on it it gives resistance, but gives a tiny bit of flexibility,” Gemmell said. “It’s incredibly sticky to brick and to plywood.”

The foam is more pricey than the steel, and wouldn’t require floor diaphragms.

For installing the three diaphragms, stiffening up the roof, connecting the system to the four walls and the second and third floors, Gemmell estimates the cost of the 5,000 square foot building’s reinforcement could be between $400,000-$600,000 total.

“It depends on what’s required by the city,” Gemmell said. “And it’s economy of scale: it’s cheaper as you do more.”

A partial upgrade would also be required for Cargo, a homegoods importer at 81 S.E. Yamhill St. The historical Cargo building has been recently updated, and the owner’s investments show.

“They’re not going to tear it down, they’ve already invested,” Gemmell said. “They key is who owns it. The value is in the dirt. If something is required, does it pencil out to retrofit it, or do I tear it down and build a high-rise?”

Earthquake Tech

Where: 210 S.E. Madison, Ste. #1

Web: EarthquakeTech.com

Phone: 503 282-4424

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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