The roof of the planned—and funded—new Ocosta Elementary School is one of the most talked about structures in the school district located in Grays Harbor County in Washington State. When construction starts on the structure this summer, it will become the first vertical tsunami refuge site in the nation.
As part of a $13.8 million bond that passed to build a new elementary school, officials included the cost to reinforce the gym to withstand earthquakes and created space on the gym roof to house 1,000 people 55 ft. above sea level.
The Ocosta Elementary School sits adjacent to the junior/senior high school on a peninsula void of high ground. Both schools house about 700 students, leaving more room for neighbors on the roof. A potential federal grand could fund an even larger building.
Less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, Ocosta will become the first entity to follow through on plans to build a vertical tsunami evacuation area, even as others up and down the West Coast have drawn up plans or expressed a desire to have such an option for residents.
To help get a height of 55 ft. above sea level, safely above the needed requirements for tsunami surges, the district will use the help of a small hill on the property. Plus, the gym will be built to withstand both large earthquakes and storm surge power to ensure it stands both pre-tsunami and during the tsunami. The Seattle Times reports the construction will include deep pilings and reinforced concrete cores at each corner, adding about 20 percent to the overall cost. But even if the façade of the gym melts away, the foundation and staircase to the roof should survive, providing a much-needed vertical safe haven.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He also writes for Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.