Washington County's main administrative center in Hillsboro is now more resistant to earthquakes — in anticipation of the big one off the Oregon Coast — and upgraded to keep it dry and make it more energy-efficient.
County officials and employees gathered Friday, Sept. 13, to observe the near-completion of the seismic retrofit of the Public Services Building. Some interior work remains unfinished on the second floor, and some county offices have yet to return to the building.
But the heavy lifting is done after an expenditure of $35 million and counting, plus 1,800 cubic yards of concrete, 170 tons of rebar, 160 tons of steel — and in Scott Porter's words, "they are intermeshed with a lot of blood, sweat and tears."
Porter is director of the county emergency management cooperative. He said more than 50 companies took part, including SERA Architects and J.E. Dunn Construction, both of Portland.
"What we have now is a safe, dry and efficient building for decades to come," he said.
"We not only strengthened the building to withstand a catastrophic earthquake, but we have also made upgrades in efficiency to critical building systems. When the subduction earthquake comes — and we know it will — the building is going to be better protected. Our most important resource — our staff — and members of the public who may be in the building when that earthquake strikes are going to be better protected."
The building is named in honor of Charles D. Cameron, who was the county administrator when it was completed in 1990. The building met the applicable codes then, but the retrofit was prompted by new findings about the severe damage likely from an earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone off the Oregon Coast.
Cameron, who retired in 2006 after 20 years as county administrator, was one of those who cut the ceremonial ribbon for the retrofit.
It is the second of three retrofit projects planned by Washington County.
Work on the Law Enforcement Center on Southwest Adams Avenue was completed in March 2018, 20 years after the original center was built. The jail did not need extra work, but the sheriff's office portion required cross-bracing that can be seen from the outside.
The current budget sets aside money to start a retrofit of the Walnut Street Center, which houses county transportation operations and fleet services.
Years in the making
County commissioners authorized the projects in 2015 and used some of the money from Gain Share payments, which came from the state general fund to offset some of the property taxes lost when the county negotiated multimillion-dollar investments with Intel and Genentech.
None of the commissioners back then was present at the ceremony, and three of the five are no longer in office. But Kathryn Harrington, who became board chairwoman in January, said all the commissioners are committed to keeping government operations going in emergencies.
"We all feel the burden. What if it happens on our watch?" Harrington said.
"We are committed to implement critical preparedness strategies that will mitigate this threat and position us to respond as quickly and efficiency when a catastrophic earthquake hits the Pacific Northwest."
In addition to the seismic retrofit, county officials decided to upgrade several building systems — heating, ventilation and air conditioning, lighting and security — and to rid the basement of a persistent water problem that has plagued it since the building was opened.
County Administrator Bob Davis said the building sits atop an underground river, which has intruded into the basement, where the county's information technology systems are housed.
During the retrofit, pumps were added to remove water as needed, and an excavation reached down so that basement offices now have windows and natural light.
"We have eliminated years of water intrusion problems in the basement," Porter said. "As I have said at recent meetings, a river no longer runs through it," playing off the title of a book written by Norman Maclean.
He drew cheers and laughter.
Davis said that given how the original building was built — each floor was built separately and then hoisted into place — "the contractors will tell you this was the most challenging project they have been involved with."
The retrofit work required the county commissioners and county administrative office to move offsite — public meetings of the commissioners took place at the Hillsboro Civic Center across 1st Avenue until late 2018 — and then offices for health and human services and land use and transportation. Most health offices will remain in Aloha, where the county acquired a building from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue; most land use offices will return to the Public Services Building by early October.
"We were glad in a small way to give back to the county," Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway said as he accepted a thank-you plaque from Harrington.
Washington County's Planning and Development Services Division will be moving back to the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, third floor, suite 350. The building is at 155 N. 1st Ave., Hillsboro.
The division offices will be closed to the public on Sept. 20 and 23. Move completion dates are as follows:
• Building and finance staff: Monday, Sept. 23
• Plans examiners: Tuesday, Sept. 24
• Current Planning: Thursday, Sept. 26
• Community Planning: Monday, Sept. 30
• Transportation Planning: Tuesday, Oct. 1
• Building Inspectors: Wednesday, Oct. 2
Effective Monday, Sept. 23, new hours of operation for the division will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays
and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.