Second study confirms school defects

MEDFORD — A second opinion by an engineering firm versed in preservation of historical buildings has confirmed serious structural deficiencies at two of Medford's oldest elementary schools. Jackson and Roosevelt, circa 1911 elementary schools, were shuttered abruptly last June after DCI Engineers, of Bellevue, Wash., concluded that the buildings would likely collapse in the event of an earthquake because of crumbling brick, weak roof trusses and walls of unreinforced brick masonry.

The Medford School Board in late September commissioned architect Peter Meijer and ABHT Structural Engineers, of Portland, to conduct a secondary engineering study of Jackson and Roosevelt before deciding what to do with the buildings, which were previously slated for renovation.

"I'm not surprised that the second study validated the first study," said School Board President Mike Moran. "It tells us that for Jackson and Roosevelt to be reopened, the price tag to renovate them has doubled from what we budgeted."

In its draft report, Meijer and ABHT confirmed DCI's findings and identified additional structural problems at Jackson and Roosevelt. Those included inadequate support beneath the floor and roof. The existing base for the wood floors, called the diaphragm, is made of 1-inch decking, which bends easily in an earthquake.

"The diaphragm is the floor plate that makes the floorboards act as a single unit," Meijer said.

"The floors help the building resist twisting, so the stiffer the floor is the more resistant to twisting the walls are."

The roof trusses are also rotating in different directions, putting pressure on the bricks at the exterior pilasters and causing cracking, Meijer said. Stabilizing the trusses would alleviate that pressure, he said.

Meijer and ABHT reached their conclusion through an independent engineering study that involved school inspections and building drawings and by reviewing the methods and assumptions used in DCI's evaluation.

The results of lab tests on the condition of the old brick on the buildings have not yet been released by Meijer but could be available by the end of the week.

But the condition of the bricks won't change the need for reinforcing the buildings against a possible earthquake, said Mark Button, Medford school facilities director. The buildings would have to be reinforced with 8-inch concrete walls constructed on the inside.

It will cost more than $14 million to renovate each school with the required seismic upgrades and more than $13 million to replace each of them, according to an estimate by OPSIS Architecture of Portland.

The $189 million bond issue passed in November 2006 allocated about $7.7 million to renovate each school, which included new heating and air-conditioning systems, windows, roofing, flooring and asbestos removal.

"I'm not surprised by the costs," said Molly Wolfe, a Roosevelt PTO member. "There are people in the neighborhood who say, 'Wouldn't it be great to preserve that historical building,' but I think the general sentiment is, 'We just want a school on that site.' "

What the second opinion means to the fate of Jackson and Roosevelt is unclear. School board members said they must also take other factors into account, such as elementary enrollment, in its decision.

One option the board is considering involves permanently closing Jackson and Roosevelt as schools, building a new South Medford High School at Cunningham and Columbus avenues and renovating the existing South Medford at South Oakdale Avenue into a middle school.

The additional middle school would allow the district to create elementary schools with kindergarten through fifth grades and middle schools encompassing sixth through eighth grades, instead of the existing K-6 and 7-8 configuration.

The other option is to renovate or rebuild Jackson and Roosevelt at their existing sites and scrap the new South Medford project, which is expected to cost about $82 million.

The school board had briefly considered other options that entailed closing Jackson and Roosevelt and opening multiple K-8 campuses, but they dismissed those options at a meeting on Tuesday because of strong community opposition.

Jackson and Roosevelt pupils are now attending four other schools: West Side School, Hoover Elementary and Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools.

Costs for the 18 projects in the bond package have exceeded the amount of the bond by more than $27 million in large part because of the structural problems at Jackson and Roosevelt and expenses associated with building a new South Medford.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

Share This Story