PCC in 3.4 Million Dollar Dispute Over Botched Roof Job

By Emma Meshell|April 5, 2017News, Top Stories|

Since the failure of the roof of the experimentally-designed Newberg Center, legal action has been taken by Portland Community College against the responsible construction company, which was hired to build the center in 2011.

PCC used a 7.8 million dollar bond to build a net-zero extension campus in Newberg that year, contracting R&H/Colas Construction to do the job. The unique architecture of the building is known for conserving energy, utilizing solar panels and inventive structural elements to consume no more energy than it produces. The pinnacle of the design was its use of Structural Insulated Panels, which double as both structure and insulation. They are formed by sandwiching panels of styrofoam between harder materials, such as wood or fiberglass. The center even won the Architect’s Design Award for Sustainability in the year it was built.

The Structural Insulated Panel Association states on its website that the humidity of a building with SIPS must be kept at about forty per cent or risk dangers of water damage to the panels.

“Panels are rated for exterior exposure during construction, but keep them dry when stored on site” reads the Association’s “Do’s and Don’ts” page. “Cover them with a loose tarp or sheet of poly.”

Notably, the College had been warned of the possibility of structural failure by faculty member Steve Borcherding, who noted that in Juneau, Alaska, several buildings constructed with SIPs had failed.

He wrote a seven-page document detailing the issues that would likely arise due to Oregon’s humidity if the design was given the go-ahead by the College. PCC decided to use the design anyway, and went ahead with the ecologically conscious structure.

As it turned out, Borcherding was correct. The building’s upper had begun rotting through due to moisture permeation by June of 2015 just four years later, costing taxpayers over three million dollars in replacement costs, Nick Budnick of the Oregonian (now with the Portland Tribune) reported in 2015.

On February 8, 2016, PCC filed a demand for 3.4 million dollars against R&H/ Colas Construction, citing defects in the building’s structure and negligence in violation of contract.

According to the arbitration filings made by PCC, a variety of structural elements were left in the rain overnight by construction workers. The documents state that SIPs, framing members, nailers, and joint elements—all crucial to the building’s integrity—were exposed to moisture, subjecting the project to failure before it reached finality.

The 3.4 million dollars demanded of the construction firm by PCC is intended to cover the cost of repair, architectural and engineering services, owner’s repair services, temporary student classrooms and administrative facilities, and permitting fees.

Over a year has passed since the College has filed for damages.

In December of 2016, The Bridge filed a public records request for the documents surrounding the building’s failure. The documents showed that the College had made an arbitration filing without announcement a year after the roof’s failure, which was unknown to the public prior to the retrieval of these records. The Bridge continued correspondence with PCC Administrative staff until the publication of this story.

On March 24, Kate Chester, director of Community Engagement for PCC stated that “There has not been a settlement. The arbitration hearing is slated for August 2017.”

Here’s the answer and affirmitave defence from R&H/Colas.

Portland Community College is represented by esteemed Portland legal firm Miller Nash Graham and Dunn, while R&H/Colas is represented by NW firm Lorber Law.

The Bridge will continue to follow this story as more information regarding the legal proceedings surface.

The Portland Tribune also picked up on this ongoing story.

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