Contractor says Portland Community College's Newberg Center roof is facing new problems

Two years after it was replaced for $3.5 million, the bond-funded roof on Portland Community College's Newberg Center already is having problems.GARY ALLEN - While a contractor claims the roof on the Newberg Center has failed, PCC officials say that is not the case.

The energy-efficient building cost $7.2 million when it was built in 2011, and was designed to last for decades. But its specially insulated roof was replaced in 2015, after just four years, due to severe rotting and fears of imminent collapse.

In May, 18 months after the replacement project was completed, a PCC roof contractor concluded the new roof had "failed" and recommended it be replaced in 2018, according to a July report.

PCC officials disagree, saying the contractor who constructed the replacement roof does not agree it failed, nor does another contractor who has worked on the Newberg building. They say repairs done last month were covered under warranty.

"A difference of opinion among contractors is not uncommon," wrote PCC spokeswoman Kate Chester in an email. "The Newberg Center's new roof has not failed."

The flare up of concerns over the Newberg Center, the most public failure of the 2008 bond program, comes at a time when PCC officials are asking voters for money. On the November ballot, they are asking for $185 million to support buildings, maintenance and workforce development, officials say.

The new taxes would be layered on top of existing PCC taxes so that the near-term tax rate remains the same rather than starts to ramp down. So a house assessed at $300,000 would continue to be taxed $120 per year, or about $10 per month, rather than having that payment be phased down significantly in coming years.

Roof replaced already

The earlier $374 million bond was focused on construction to address a classroom shortage, including a new mini-campus in Newberg.

The Newberg building was designed to go well beyond existing green building standards and officials planned a "net zero" building that generated as much energy as it consumed.

To get there, designers planned to use a technology called structural insulated panels, a product that, while potentially money-saving, had been the subject of a wave of class-action lawsuits over premature rotting in Alaska.

In 2014, PCC realized the Newberg roof had rotted and initiated a replacement project, citing fears of imminent collapse.

In 2015, then-PCC facilities manager Steve Borcherding went public saying he had warned the college that the panels were prone to rot — a claim substantiated by a 2012 memo by his boss, then-PCC facilities director Tim Donahue.

In that memo, Donahue faulted PCC for not heeding warnings about the potential for rot, and warned that PCC was not reacting quickly or aggressively enough to moisture in the roof, problems that he said stemmed from poor construction and design.

He accused the administration of covering up the problem and he faulted the bond program for its "complete resistance" to hiring independent outside construction inspectors to ensure quality. He asked for an outside audit to address construction concerns.

PCC administrators have dismissed his concerns as a matter of opinion, and say they've made no changes to address his memo.

Roof problems resurface

PCC completed the replacement roof in December 2015 at a cost of more than $3.5 million. Earlier this fall, arbitration and mediation with the contractor led to the college being reimbursed $2.75 million.

In 2017, PCC hired the Garland Company, a roofing supplier, to conduct a survey of all its buildings using an affiliate called Dry Zone.

The May 18 inspection report of the Newberg building by Dry Zone reported widespread problems, notably with the adhesion of the roof — which was peeling up in various places and which the company called a "system-wide issue." The company's final report, in July, echoed its recommendation to replace the roof next year, noting that the work would be covered under warranty.

In response, PCC disclosed a memo responding to Garland that was prepared by McDonald & Wetle, the company that did the new roof. They reported some discrepancies in the Garland findings, and stressed that, in their opinion, the roof did not need replacing. But they called for a new "forensic" review to find out how water was penetrating the roof.

Chester attributes the disagreement on whether the roof needs replacing to a difference in terms — for instance, whether the original contractor referenced the entire roof or just the protective surface membrane — and noted that PCC did not have to pay for the September repairs.

Asked to review the reports, three experienced local roofing experts agreed they would have to personally inspect the roof to draw firm conclusions. However, Keith Schaber of Schaber Roof Consultants said the problems appeared quite fixable and rejected the idea that the roof needs replacing. He was echoed by Bruce Ryan of Professional Roof Consultants.

The other, Joe Sardotz, whose company, Oregon Roof Consulting, specializes in problem roofs, said evidence suggests problems with the installation of the Newberg replacement roof. The problems are "probably fixable," he said, but added that if the adhesion problems are widespread, replacement of the entire roof may be cheaper and take less time.

Ex-employee sees repeat

Borcherding said he's worried that, as in 2012, the college is again reacting with half-measures due to concerns about bad publicity.

"My fear is that they're going to be more conscious of not admitting a mistake than they are admitting they made a mistake and dealing with the consequences," he said.

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