Campus is structurally sound following earthquake
February 28, 2001
Lacey, Wash.- Like much of the rest of the South Sound, Saint
Martin's college was shaken, but miraculously emerged virtually
unscathed from the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that hit near Olympia
"There was obviously and rightly so a tremendous amount of fear but
our building came through in far better shape than a lot of Seattle and
most of Olympia," David Spangler, the college president, said Thursday
morning. "We didn't lose a single brick or window and there's no
evidence of any movement of the structure."
"If this building was not safe, there is no way we would have resumed
classes," said Spangler, a licensed structural dynamics civil engineer.
Phone and electric service were uninterrupted by Wednesday's event.
Preliminary damage reports indicate that Old Main, the oldest and
largest building on the college campus, took the brunt of the
earthquake's force showing cracks in the interior plaster finish as
evidence of what it survived.
Students were evacuated following Wednesday's shake and the campus
was closed so engineers with the City of Lacey could inspect the campus.
The campus has measures in place to respond and handle emergency or
crisis situations. The college's professional counseling staff has been
made available for assistance and food service has gone uninterrupted.
Sodexho Marriott Services, the campus' provider of food services, had
lunch ready to serve to students soon after the quake hit.
Kevin Scott, general manager of Sodexho, said they are prepared to
sustain the campus for three days following a major crisis.
"We keep food for the campus community and equipment like Bunsen
burners to help prepare food if there's a loss of electricity," Scott
"The city came in to do their studies and made the determination that
the campus was sound for reopening," said Spangler. "They felt
comfortable with us reopening and suggested a structural engineer to
come by and take a look as well."
All of the campus buildings built over the past decade meet the
city's seismic code regulations, according to Spangler. Old Main has
areas that meet the standards and has been scheduled to undergo upgrades
this summer. Enhancements to the existing structure will be made to
improve its integrity. The plans have already been approved by the city
and design elements are being awaited.
Engineers with Chalker, Putnam, Collins & Scott, Inc. will be on
campus early next week to recommend whether the cracks in the plaster
should be covered now or wait until the summer upgrades. The
Tacoma-based firm is the same that was contracted in 1999 to do the
seismic upgrades on Old Main this summer. One of the things they will
determine is if any upgrades should be done in addition to what has
already been planned or if it would be possible to start ahead of
What also seemed reassuring is the fact that the hill the college
sits on is a unique one.
The hill where the campus rests is composed of geologic residual,
which provides it with a hard foundation, as opposed to the spongy
foundations of sediment-based centers found in downtown Olympia and
"The college was built on a hill because that's the Benedictine
tradition," said Father John Scott, O.S.B. "Both that tradition and
nature have provided a rocky hill that is a sturdy place for us."
Wednesday's quake is the third major one that Old Main has survived.
The main wing, which was constructed in 1913, and west wing, constructed
in 1920, both survived the earthquakes of 1949 and 1965, which
registered magnitudes of 7.1 and 6.5 respectively.
Father John, a professor of history at the college and local
historian will never forget where he was during both prior quakes and
now this third one.
"I was a 4-year-old boy living in Fort Lewis when the '49 quake hit.
Back then it was a free carnival ride," Father John said. "I was a
sophomore working in the registrar's office when the '65 one hit. I
remember the building feeling really wobbly and racing downstairs to the
Father John said even then, minimal damages were sustained.
"I lived in Baran Hall (residence hall) and one of the residents had
a goldfish bowl with two fish in it," Father John recalled. "One of the
fish had been thrown from the bowl during the shaking and it died. It
was the only casualty we had."
Father John had left his third-floor office in Old Main just 10
minutes prior to the quake.
"This was less fun than '49 and less dramatic than the one in '65,"
he mused. "But it's interesting to see how it brought the community
together. Philosophically, it showed us how impermanent everything is.
"In less than a minute our beliefs that we're invincible were shaken
and our humanity showed through," Father John said referring to the many
people he saw around campus comforting one another and attempting to
ease one-another's nerves.
For more information:
Christina Ramirez-Milhoan, communications specialist
Office of Communication