At least there’s a solution to the Courthouse Square mess in Salem, Ore. Unfortunately for taxpayers, it comes with an additional $22.8 million bill.
The $34 million, 163,000-sq-ft public structure with an adjacent bus mall has sat vacant since 2010 after it was deemed structurally “dangerous,” only 10 years after opening to acclaim and a LEED certification.
As public officials grappled with what to do with a five-story office building found structurally deficient because of inadequate concrete foundations and supports, the building sat unused and public workers got cozy in temporary digs.
But a decision by the Marion County Board of Commissioners this month will have the county spending over $22 million to Structural Preservation Systems LLC to fix the concrete issues, giving the building new life sometime within the next 18 months, the length of time it could take to fix all the problems inside Courthouse Square.
The county was unable to recover much in the way of financial damages from the architect or the contractor on the job since it was forced to sue in 2006 prior to the statute of limitations running out, before the full extent of the issues was discovered. The building opened in 2000 and by 2002 there were a few concrete issues, then deemed cosmetic. By 2006 things hadn’t turned too much worse, but excessive floor deflection had been found. A suit to settle netted Marion County less than a total of $2 million from both Salem-based Arbuckle Costic architects and Salem’s Pence/Kelly Construction, the general contractor.
But by 2008 an independent review alleged that a faulty engineering design by Salem’s Century West Engineering included 12-inch by 12-inch concrete columns inside the structure not large enough to carry the load of the concrete slab floors. Add in that the interior concrete that was supposed to bear 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch—which it did when the building was inspected during construction—had dipped as low as 3,300 psi in some places and things weren’t looking good for Courthouse Square.
On July 1, 2010, engineering consultants recommended immediate closure of the bus mall and parking structure, but allowed workers to remain in the Courthouse Square structure. A loud noise and vibrating floors just 16 days later changed all that. Engineers found a post-tension cable had likely ruptured and that “numerous columns throughout the building were deficient.” The building was vacated within 60 days and as engineering reports costing over $600,000 were performed, no solutions were decided on.
As the decision-making process was about as effective as the building itself—both going nowhere—the now nearly $58 million project (original cost, fix cost and additional study costs) has a new finish date: 2014. All this for offices and a bus stop.
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