Oregon’s new Treasury office is ready for the next disaster

When the Beachie Creek wildfire blanketed Salem in ash in the fall of 2020, the state’s financial servers felt the pain.

At the Oregon State Treasury – then housed in one of the marble buildings on the Capitol Mall with an aging air filtration system – employees had to wipe ash off the servers that ensure state employees get paid on time and Oregonians get their food stamp and unemployment payments.

It’s the sort of work that can’t fail, state Treasurer Tobias Read said. Through wildfires, ice storms, sustained power outages and the long-awaited major Cascadia earthquake, Oregon’s state government has to be able to cut checks.

“Money doesn’t come into the state or leave the state without Treasury’s successful operation,” Read said.

That’s the rationale for the Treasury’s new office on Southeast Hawthorne Street, a stand-alone building next to Denny’s and across from the old south Salem Costco.

The “resiliency building” was designed to be fully operational immediately after a 9.0 earthquake, and to continue functioning through disasters ranging from wildfires to the algae bloom that left Salem’s water undrinkable in May 2018.

It stands on 28 base isolators that allow the building to move 18 inches in any direction during an earthquake. Duct work and pipes run overhead and aren’t buried under ceiling tiles, allowing them to be easily inspected after a quake.

Other adaptations are intended to allow the department to keep functioning even if city utilities aren’t. Those include about 240 kilowatts of solar panels on the roof and design changes to use less power, like large windows to draw in natural light. The building has net-zero energy use, meaning it generates enough power to sustain its operations, a battery bank that can store enough solar power for about 24 hours of operations, and a backup diesel generator. There’s also a well in case city water stops working or becomes undrinkable following a disaster, and an upgraded HVAC system to filter out wildfire smoke.

Solar panels on the roof of the new Oregon State Treasury office in Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The upgrades make Treasury unique among state government offices for their ability to function through a natural disaster.

“This is certainly above and beyond anything that any other building has,” said Andrew Phelps, Oregon’s emergency manager, during a tour Friday.

The resiliency building is the first in Oregon to receive a platinum rating from the U.S. Resiliency Council, a nonprofit engineering organization promoting building readiness for earthquakes and other natural disasters.

It’s privately owned by Salem developer Steve Freeburg, who spent about $40 million to design and construct it to the Treasury’s specifications. The agency is leasing the building at a cost of $181,159 per month, with an initial lease just under 20 years and options to renew for a decade up to eight times. About 133 employees will work out of the office, though the agency’s investment team will remain in Tigard.

Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read speaks at a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, June 30 outside the Treasury’s new office building in south Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Read and other Treasury officials celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. The building has been open since March, but many Treasury employees have continued working remotely in the months since. The office returns to hybrid work Friday, said spokeswoman Amy Bates, and Treasury leaders are hopeful the building’s atmosphere – which includes a large stairwell mural and preserved moss walls in several spots – will make people want to be in the office.

“You can see the outdoors from just about any spot,” Read said. He works out of a small ground-floor office just inside the building’s main entrance, having vacated his prior quarters in the Oregon Capitol due to seismic renovations there.

The building also features an eclectic selection of names for its conference and break rooms, many of which pay tribute to Oregon. Bates said the names were chosen by employees who won a raffle. As a result, the break room is named “Dunder Mifflin,” and conference rooms include “Rip City” and “Prefontaine.”

A mural inside the Oregon State Treasury Resiliency Building (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Read said during the ribbon cutting ceremony that he hoped the department’s work would encourage other Oregon companies and agencies to take similar steps toward preparedness.

“As proud as we are of this and as happy as we are to be the first example of it, we don’t want to be the last,” Read said. “We’ve got to be an example for other state agencies, local governments and the private sector.”

Preserved moss is among the decorations inside the new state Treasury office in Salem, intended to give the space a natural feel (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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