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Community Center roof repair needed to reopen

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune According to a structural report the Ashland Community Center roof sags, the north exterior wall slants and the floor is not level.

ASHLAND — Despite hopes that securing recommendations from an ad-hoc committee of industry professionals would accelerate reopening of the Ashland Community Center on Winburn Way, the building is several months from safe occupancy, according to city officials.

Public Works Director Scott Fleury said the Ashland building official took into account two separate engineering reports detailing structural deficiencies in the Community Center roof, specifically for snow load bearing capacity and “potential deformations of the structure over time,” and determined that for safety, repairs must be made prior to building occupancy.

According to a structural report by Marquess & Associates Inc. — the engineering firm initially selected for the rehabilitation project — the Community Center roof sags, the north exterior wall slants and the floor is not level. At the Pioneer Log Cabin next door, the roof sags, the historic stone chimney is hazardous without reinforcement and floor beams need strengthening, but “treated logs below grade are in good condition.”

An assessment by Snyder Engineering dated Aug. 10 provides analysis and repair recommendations on six major issues with the Community Center building: north wall and foundation asymmetry, sagging roof and ceiling over the Main Hall, improperly supported and “over-spanned” roof framing, exterior wall sheathing, and gaps between support posts and footings.

After electing not to approve a contract with Marquess, the City Council at its May 18 meeting appointed a citizen group to “review, analyze and make recommendations” for economical options to repair and reopen Pioneer Hall and the Community Center.

By a tie-breaking vote, a motion passed Ashland City Council Sept. 21 to open both buildings at the earliest possible date and issue a request for proposals via the Public Works Department for recommended actions outlined in the ad-hoc committee’s final report, which included installation of a “moment frame” — a drywall-wrapped steel frame inside the Community Center auditorium with columns connected to new footings at grade that support existing roof trusses.

According to City Attorney Katrina Brown, the city’s possession of engineering reports defining potential dangers could increase overall project liability. One engineer’s assessment indicated the building could collapse entirely; another engineer said the ceiling poses significant risk, she said.

“We actually have written documents talking about the structural deficiencies at the Community Center, and so, of course, now the risk to the city, if it were to open those buildings without addressing those structural deficiencies, is greatly enhanced,” Brown said. “I am not advising that the Community Center be opened until the roof is addressed.”

During the Nov. 16 City Council meeting, Fleury said two processes associated with the Community Center rehabilitation project are underway: one focused on constructing a retaining wall and the other on roof modifications necessary for safe occupancy — the latter being the primary structural issue identified in both engineering reports.

According to the ad-hoc committee’s report, banked vegetative debris against the wood foundation traps moisture, provides access for vermin and represents a significant fire hazard — all worsened by unauthorized access to the rear building areas. Historic preservation consultant and ad-hoc committee member George Kramer previously said the banked debris presented the “single most dangerous condition” at both sites.

Fleury said Monday that the city’s planning department confirmed the property — with a “severe” slope exceeding 35% — is subject to a physical constraints review permit, which is required for activities on hillside land such as “grading, filling, stripping or cutting involving more than 20 cubic yards on any lot.” Necessary tree removal also falls under the conditions of the code’s physical and environmental constraints overlay.

“For development other than single-family homes on individual lots, all grading, drainage improvements, or other land disturbances shall only occur from May 1 to Oct. 31,” according to the code. “Excavation shall not occur during the remaining wet months of the year.”

Fleury, citing a recent conference with the Planning Department, said the physical constraints permit requires a grading plan detailing on-site excavation activities, a storm drainage plan demonstrating appropriate runoff management and erosion minimization, an inventory and evaluation of each tree, and a geotechnical report confirming site conditions are suitable for proposed construction activities.

“We have had a bunch of the material buildup from the slope against the back of the building removed as of last week as well, and plan to have the geotechnical engineer back on site after the holiday to review the slope stability and recommend options moving forward with respect to a retaining wall or to leave as is and perform periodic maintenance if any erosion occurs,” Fleury said in an email Monday.

Fleury said he released a request for proposals Nov. 2 for the roof portion of the project. The RFP will close Dec. 7 and contract approval is slated to come back in front of the council in late January or early February. A construction timeline cannot be determined until the four- to six-month design phase is complete, he said.

The chosen firm will evaluate both Marquess’ recommendation to replace the roof and trusses entirely and the recommendation from the ad-hoc committee to install the internal moment frame, and may submit its own alternative, he said.

Interim City Manager Gary Milliman said Pioneer Hall could be occupied sooner than its neighboring building.

“We believe that Pioneer Hall could be reopened safely and could be occupied while the repairs needed for that structure could go forward,” Milliman said.

Fleury said the Parks and Recreation Department determines based on COVID-19 restrictions when the Pioneer log cabin can be open.

Engineering will take a few months after awarding a contract in early 2022 and minor structural repairs based on the ad-hoc committee’s recommendations should not significantly impact rental use of the facility, he said.

Among needed fixes — shifting logs around a window cut into the original cabin in the 1980s need reinforcing to prevent further log movement, according to the ad-hoc committee.

Also on the table for council consideration is a proposal from Ashland resident Allan Sandler, who brought forward a development concept for the Community Center that combines offerings in early childhood education, children’s theater production and classes, and community events consistent with current facility uses, according to council documents.

Under the proposal, the city would lease the building for 20 years to Sandler’s team, which would repair the Community Center at their expense, including clean up behind the building and installation of a retaining wall, a full upgrade to building code with sprinklers and seismic retrofit, and maintenance of historical significance through consultation with the Ashland Historic Commission.

“Upon completion of the upgrade, Mr. Sandler and his team operate the building for the balance of the lease,” according to a preliminary proposal in council documents.

Councilor Paula Hyatt said per her conversation with Sandler, building repairs under his proposal would cost about $750,000.

“In putting forward the funds to repair the building, he would then set the fees for that programming in a way where he could recoup the cost of repairing the building,” said Hyatt, adding that Sandler indicated his goal is to “marry” community needs through a public-private partnership.

“The idea of people having graduation parties, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, wedding ceremonies, being able to do that, to me I’m just a little bit leery of locking us up and outsourcing that decision, if you will, to a party we can’t control,” said Councilor Shaun Moran.

Discussion about the Community Center and Pioneer Hall works is slated to continue at the next City Council meeting Dec. 7.