Inspectors say most state buildings are fine — just not their own

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Forgive state inspectors if they seem embarrassed — their own building, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities office near the corner of Lake Otis Boulevard and Tudor Road, suffered perhaps the most damage of any state building from Friday’s earthquake.

The building, called the “Annex,” may have lost an entire wing in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake according to Matt Tanaka, a state engineer and project manager. The wing housed the department’s civil rights office and transportation fleet managers.

“You can see where this whole patio porch just dropped down this far and split apart from the building,” Tanaka said as he stood just outside the building wing. “This building was just jumping all over the place — it was pushing and compressing and vibrating on the ground surface and all this gray (atop the soil) is where all this silt just squirted out from this foundation wall and onto the ground. So as all the material displaced out from under the building, this settled.”

Since the quake struck Friday, Tanaka has been dispatching teams, including volunteers from California and the U.S. East Coast, out of a commandeered conference room in a safe part of the annex to inspect state buildings. His office is normally at Ted Stevens International Airport.

As of mid-day Thursday, the inspectors had gotten to about 100 buildings in Anchorage, the Mat-Su and the Kenai Peninsula. The worst included a bad parking lot at the Anchorage jail, a loss of sprinklers in the state public health laboratory on Tudor Road and possible problems with a bridge at the state crime lab nearby. The prison at Spring Creek in Seward had a small separation and needs another inspection, he said.

But nothing is like the DOT annex building in Anchorage, where about 70 people work and where employees have been told to stay away from the wing. The wing’s wide hallway is cracked in a couple places and a room at the end sits at a crazy angle. Originally a nursing home, the building, like Tanaka himself, survived the notorious 1964 Alaska quake, but the less powerful Cook Inlet quake appears to have finished off some of the building. Tanaka said the wing may have to be bulldozed and the foundation rebuilt to current standards, but it was still too soon to tell.

Tanaka said he is trying to place an engineer and an architect on each team — each profession sees something different, he said. For instance, an architect noticed that the lost annex wing couldn’t be permanently blocked off because the exit at its end was needed to meet life-safety code for emergencies.

Later in the day, Tanaka checked on inspectors at the Alaska National Guard armory on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. The teams looked for cracks in the brickwork and foundation, but as of early afternoon, hadn’t found any new problems — an old, patched crack that ran up the side of the building caught their attention though.

Tanaka attributed the relative good survival of local structures to stringent building standards that have evolved ever tougher over time. Foundations are critical, he said.

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