Leaky roof uproots students

Portland State student Anya Pereverzina was cramming for a physics midterm in the early morning hours of June 28 when “large stucco pieces” and “yellowish-green liquid” started landing on her sofa and other belongings after several hours of rain. She is one of five students who were forced to temporarily move from Montgomery Court after two incidences in which construction to the roof caused rainwater to leak into the apartments below.

“When they took off the roof, the ceiling started to cave in,” Pereverzina said. She is now residing temporarily off campus at the University Place Hotel.

The construction, part of a seismic retrofitting project funded by the university and a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, began June 20. On the morning of June 22, with The Oregonian forecasting “clouds and a stray shower,” workers from the Fortis Construction Company tore the roof off of an extensive portion of the building’s north wing, exposing insulation and ceiling joists. At around noon of that same day, an unexpected storm hit central Portland, and workers hurried to cover the site, according to Project Engineer Landon Winter.

“We had Visqueen, a black, thick plastic tarp on site,” said Winter. However, it was not yet ready to put into place, a process that normally takes up to a half an hour. Because the storm moved very quickly, he said, it was over before anything could be done to protect the ceilings below.

“I realize that we messed up on that,” Winter said.

As to the second incident, he said that the Visqueen had not been sealed properly when the crew left on Friday, allowing rain to seep in that weekend.

“It does rain here. We should have been prepared,” said Francis McBride, supervising architect for PSU Facilities. “That was a flukey storm, but that doesn’t excuse the problem.”

The company is being much more careful now, he said, by working on smaller sections of the roof at a time.

Pereverzina has several grievances with how the situation has been handled by College Housing Northwest and Auxiliary Services at PSU and plans on seeking compensation for damages and relief of rent payments for June and July. “This is not worth me paying $400 a month.”

She said that after dealing with the problems caused by the first storm, the downpour in her own room caused her to fail her mid-term. Now she is accepting an incomplete in the class, which will allow her to take it in the fall without penalty, but pushes her entrance to grad school to next winter.

She also took issue with the limited notice she said the residents received about the construction.

McBride said that when meetings began between PSU and Fortis Construction, the company expressed concern about the safety of residents and hoped that they would be removed. However, PSU and College Housing Northwest representatives felt that it would impact students too much to move them. Instead, they devised a system that would notify residents in certain rooms that they would have to vacate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when construction might affect them directly.

However, residents of the fourth floor said that even with work scheduled directly overhead they had been given no notice to leave their units until after construction had began.

Junior Mikola Fuller lived in a unit that was affected by the first rainfall. “I happened to be out that day… I came back around three or four o’clock and water was leaking out of light fixtures and the ceiling was starting to come down.”

Fuller said College Housing Northwest covered things with a tarp and made arrangements for her and two other affected students to relocate to the hotel, where they still remain.

“There was a lot of dust and plaster everywhere…it was really difficult to breathe,” she said. Moving her belongings out of the room the next day, including a computer that would no longer start, proved taxing. “There had been more damage and the air was worse…I started to feel light-headed.” She says that it was not until a day or two later that a flier was distributed to all residents informing them that they might be required to vacate during working hours.

Pereverzina hopes that John Eckman, associate director of auxiliary services, which oversees student housing, will hear her case, grant her requests and set a precedent for dealing with other affected residents. Eckman says he will have to look at the situation on a case-by-case basis but acknowledges that the situation could have been avoided. “When we were discussing this project early on, it wasn’t clear to me how impactful this would be…they should have worked harder to make sure that no water came into those units.”