Tsunami ‘towers’ proposed in North Beach School District bond
A bond being voted on by a local school district would decide whether or not to build tsunami protection structures at schools.
The $110 million Safety 4 Students construction bond would help Ocean Shores’ North Beach School District build a new Pacific Beach Elementary School outside of the tsunami hazard zone. It would also allow for two tsunami “towers” to be built on top of the district’s other two schools.
These towers would be large rooms built a few stories above the schools, high enough to be safe from the 20-foot or higher waves that geologists predict could hit after “the big one” — the 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that has an estimated 10-15% chance of hitting in the next 50 years.
North Beach Superintendent Andrew Kelly said the towers would have a base height of 40 feet or so, and would be built with strong enough materials to stay standing during the onslaught.
“We would be able to evacuate all of our kids, all of our educators from the school, and still have room to welcome about 350 to 400 community members up into that space,” Kelly said.
The 25-year bond would replace a current bond that runs homeowners 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $150 on a $300,000 house annually. This new bond would cost $1.75 per $1,000, or $525 for a $300,000 house. That means it would be more than triple the expiring bond’s rate.
Kelly said that in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone tsunami, the projects paid for by this bond would save the lives of the district’s students.
“We have an evacuation plan to go up to the second story of the school, but we know now with the science that whatever wave comes through would be higher than the second story,” he said. “We would lose all of our kids.”
He explained that the entire town of Ocean Shores sits in the tsunami hazard zone. He does not believe it would be feasible for everyone to outrun the tsunami in their cars.
“If you survive the earthquake, we know we’ve got about 20 minutes until the wave gets here, and no way to get out of town. … We’re a community of about 10,000 people, and there’s no evacuation plan for anyone, really, other than trying to drive out the one-lane road that leaves town,” Kelly said.
And that’s assuming the roads are even intact.
“Given the kind of seismic event it takes to generate a tsunami, people really doubt whether the roads will even be passable,” Kelly added.
Critics of the bond say it is too expensive for something that may not even happen this century. But Kelly likens it to insurance — preparing for something that you hope you will never need.
“We buy insurance for all sorts of things all the time that we’re not sure is going to happen, but we do it to try to keep ourselves and our families safe,” he said.