For third generation carpenter Russ Brotnov and his tight-knit Carpentry Plus Inc. team, it’s long been a family affair.

His father Lyle founded Carpentry Plus in 1991. Russ joined two years later and now his son Caleb works there. A total of six people from a staff of 16 are related.

So it was not surprising when, the day after the 2020 Oregon wildfires leveled Brotnov’s new timber house near Estacada, his crew showed up, unasked, at his shop in Eagle Creek and began working on a temporary living space for Brotnov, his wife and their then 18-year-old son, Micah.

“It was an ominous time,” says Brotnov, Carpentry Plus’ CEO, recalling the wildfires, which also delayed the living space work by about a week because the fires threatened the shop and forced an evacuation.

Also in the spirit of “it takes a village,” the Brotnovs had a safe haven in a neighbor’s basement during the three-week renovation. The family then lived at the shop until they moved into a rebuilt house 14 months later, on Dec. 1.  

The crew finished the temporary  living space by Oct. 12, in time to begin the mass timber installation for the 58,000-sq-ft PAE Living Building in Portland, Ore., designed by ZGF Architects. Despite the trauma from the wildfires, Brotnov and Carpentry Plus, the job’s mass timber contractor, didn’t “miss a beat,” says Paul Schwer, president of  PAE Consulting Engineers and the mastermind behind Portland’s first Living Building, which opened late last year.

Fun to Watch Them Work

It took only five weeks to top out the timber frame for the five-story PAE. “Russ’ team is like a tight-knit family,” says Kyle Heckaman, senior superintendent for the general contractor, Walsh Construction Co./Oregon. “It was fun to watch them work.” 

Heckaman says Brotnov was tantamount to a mentor. He credits his “attentive work on the front end,” especially regarding sourcing the timber, and “good ideas” to help  resolve challenging design details.

Brotnov and his crew epitomize the grit of the entire team that built the PAE building, which takes Living Buildings to new levels. It is the first speculative Living office building designed for immediate reoccupancy after a major earthquake and the first in an urban historic district, which complicated design and construction. The building also is the first with a system to produce fertilizer from urine. 

The demands of the novel systems were expected, but during construction the team also had to cope with COVID-19, smoke and ash from the wildfires, a freak ice storm and a seven-day shutdown of the  brick work after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19. 

Unrelated to PAE, the Brotnovs’ spirit again was tested when another tragedy hit. In August, Lyle and his wife Kitty were sickened by COVID-19. Lyle died Sept. 1. “He was a healthy 70-year-old,” says Russ. 

Lyle had retired seven years ago. Still, though they are persevering, their founder’s death was a huge blow to the Carpentry Plus “family by choice.”
 Says Heckaman, “I don’t think you are going to get anyone better than Russ and Carpentry Plus.”