Toward the end of every legislative budget session, Oregon lawmakers dole out bond financing for capital improvement projects. There is never enough bonding capacity available to meet all the needs — debt service is prudently capped at 5 percent of the state General Fund.
As a result, even the most deserving projects often must wait their turn. That was the case in the matter of $4.7 million in bonds awarded to Southern Oregon University in the most recent session. The money will allow SOU to do long-overdue seismic upgrades to Britt Hall.
Anyone who read the recent New Yorker magazine story, "The Really Big One," knows the earthquake that geologists say will happen, possibly within the next 50 years, will cause tremendous destruction, especially to older buildings that have not been seismically retrofitted. Britt Hall, built in 1937, is one of those. Drew Gilliland, SOU director of facilities management, says Britt's design and its curved roof make it especially vulnerable to ground movement.
The magazine article contained no new information; the facts of the Cascadia Subduction Zone have been well-known here for a number of years. But the national attention the piece will bring will serve to raise awareness of the risks beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Britt Hall is only one of many buildings in need of seismic upgrades, not least among them the state Capitol building in Salem. Financing for that much larger project did not emerge from this year's session. The Capitol upgrade will continue to wait in line.