BY LINDA BAKER
CoreFirst has developed a seismic retrofit system involving steel-constructed, cartridge-style "safe zones" that can be installed in existing school buildings and cost 75% less than a full retrofit.
By now most people in Oregon know about the dreaded Cascadia subduction zone, a seismically active region off the Pacific that will trigger a magnitude 8.0 or 9.0 earthquake — in 10 minutes or in 100 years. Many Oregonians also know that aging public school buildings are not expected to withstand the quake. But finding the money to upgrade or rebuild hundreds of schools is a daunting task, and even when money dribbles in, seismic upgrades are often phased in over years.
Ben Kaiser, the owner of PATH Architecture and Kaiser Group in Portland, says he has a solution. A principal at CoreFirst, launched eight months ago, Kaiser has designed a patent-pending seismic retrofit system involving steel-constructed, cartridge-style “safe zones” that he says can be installed in existing buildings and cost 75% less than a full seismic upgrade. It can also be installed in about three months. “It’s quicker, faster, cheaper,” Kaiser says.
Developed in conjunction with KPFF Consulting Engineers, the CoreFirst system is built off-site, and the cartridges are inserted through the roof of an existing school. The modules, which contain first-aid supplies, are located next to classrooms and would provide protection should the building collapse. Kaiser said the cartridges could also be used to teach kids about geology, engineering and architecture — much like schools incorporating green-building technologies to teach kids about energy efficiency and renewable energy.
To increase the likelihood kids would have enough time to enter the modules, CoreFirst has partnered with a California-based company that has developed a system to detect and warn people of an imminent earthquake with up to 40 seconds advance notice.
As for funding, Kaiser wants to tap money from the Portland Public Schools facilities bond if it passes this month. CoreFirst could also raise money from investors to fund and install the system, then have the district pay back investors over 20 years. The company is ready to move forward “immediately” once a school system “says yes,” Kaiser says.
Eventually, Kaiser aims to apply the CoreFirst technology up and down the West Coast and is working on licensing the idea to other builders. The technology could also be used in private buildings. For now, Kaiser, who has a 6-year-old daughter, says he is focusing his energy — and moral outrage — on retrofitting schools. “My God,” he says, “we’re sending our kids to these places every day.”