County steps in to help Ocosta schools with tsunami resistent building

MONTESANO — The federal government shutdown was putting at risk nearly $1 million in potential funding to assist in the engineering and construction of a portion of a soon-to-be built Ocosta School District building that would serve as a vertical evacuation point for students, staff and nearby residents of the community in case of a tsunami.

Voters approved the new building back in April.

Because of the shutdown, the Ocosta School District has been unable to get the support needed to design its own hazard mitigation plan and get the critical advice needed to finish an application for federal funds. With a deadline of Oct. 11, the School District turned to Grays Harbor County for assistance. The county already has a hazard mitigation plan and can easily sponsor it, the sheriff said.

“As a result of this, they are requesting that Grays Harbor County become the applicant agent,” Sheriff Rick Scott said, noting that it basically means that Deputy Emergency Manager Chuck Wallace will be volunteering some of his time to do project management and oversight.

On Monday, the Grays Harbor County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution giving the district a hand in applying for the funds. County Commissioner Frank Gordon noted that many other school districts all over the West Coast are looking at the project, as well as some experts in Japan.

Ocosta District Superintendent Paula Akerlund thanked the commissioners for their efforts.

“We have passed a construction bond to move forward with a new elementary school and a portion of that elementary school will serve as a tsunami evacuation center, which would provide a safe haven not only for the 650 children on our campus from 3 years old to 18 or 19, but about 100 staff members and also the immediate surrounding area of community and family members,” Akerlund told the commissioners.

“Many months of work by many people have gone into this project, which would put the first vertical evacuation building in the United State in Grays Harbor County and specifically be a part of the Ocosta Elementary School, thus protecting the students, staff and others in the event of a tsunami,” Scott said. “I feel that it is our responsibility as leaders and elected officials in our community to do what we can to ensure the success of such a monumental project. My office will work closely with the Ocosta School District to ensure that the necessary reports and other work are completed to continue the project. We will also work to ensure that our assistance in this matter is minimized so as to put as little stress on our staff and resources as possible.”