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On a crumbling county building, no easy answers

For the Keizertimes

SALEM — “Our goal is to get people moved out (of the Marion County Courthouse Square) as quickly as possible, a Marion County official told a joint meeting of the Marion County Board of Commissioners and the Salem Area Mass District Board of Directors on Monday.

Dave Henderson, business services director for the county, said he hoped to have all occupants and county employees moved out of the Courthouse Square, the object of studies because of architectural hazards, well before the deadline of the end of October.

Neither board took any action at the meeting, held at the Courthouse Square. It was an informational session, consisting mostly of a slide presentation by Joe Pinzone, principal-in-charge of SERA Architects, one of several companies working on flaws in the 10-year-old building.

Photo courtesy State of Oregon

Before Pinzone spoke, Henderson reviewed the history of the problems, which he said were first noticed in 2002.

The county and the transit district, Henderson said, jointly filed three lawsuits.  One filed against Arbuckle Costic, the architectural company, was mediated for about $695,000. Also mediated was a suit against the contractor, Pence Kelly, and its subcontractors, for $1.169 million. A suit against Century West Engineers, which provided services to Arbuckle Costic, has not been settled; mediation is scheduled for September.

Describing his report as “an interim snapshot,” Pinzone differentiated between the “imminently dangerous” finding for the bus mall, which already is closed, and the “dangerous” finding for the building. Analyses, he said, had shown that the concrete slab in the bus mall has shown three inches of shortening.  He said the “dangerous” status of the building was based on a study made last week, which recommended evacuation within 90 days.

Later in the meeting, Henderson asked for further discussion of these terms.  Eric Watson of Miller Consulting Engineers said “imminently dangerous” meant that the bus mall was found incapable of sustaining its load, but that the problems of the building were in an early enough stage for a 90-day relocation period to be reasonable.

Janet Carlson, Marion County commissioner, asked whether any tendons (steel cables that stabilize concrete slabs) in the building had snapped. Pinzone said that there was no evidence that any tendons had snapped, but that he could not rule out the possibility that one or more tendons had.

“All concrete slabs deflect a little bit,” Pinzone said. He explained that the deflection is minimized by post tensioning (tightening tendons by pulling on them).  When post tensioning fails, he said, buckling results.

Other problems discovered to date, Pinzone said, were ceiling-wall angle buckling, water infiltration, cracking of the exterior wall, brick movement, missing sealing, missing window gaskets, and racking, which is twisting of door and window frames.