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Architects to assess leaky tower

February 16, 2012

PAWTUCKET — The leaking City Hall tower is being studied by an architectural firm in an effort to root out the source of the problem and find ways to remedy it.
City Public Works Director Lance Hill said the Providence-based firm of Robinson Green Beretta Corp., has been hired as a consultant to inspect the tower and make recommendations and cost estimates on how to fix the leaking. He said he expects the study to be completed within the next couple of weeks.
Hill said he knows the problem with the tower dates back many years, but said he became aware of the leaking firsthand shortly after his arrival on the job late last November. The tower, which is purely decorative and empty except for housing the building's elevator and some HVAC equipment, had undergone substantial leaking from a heavy rainstorm and water had shorted out the elevator's electrical system. The repair ended up costing around $16,000, Hill recalled.
While the leaking hasn't been as severe since that time, water is still getting in through the tower, particularly when the rain comes from a certain direction, Hill said. The City Hall maintenance staff has rigged a system of tarpaulins and buckets to collect the rainwater, but water still seeps through and causes damage.
Hill noted that at the last City Council meeting, Councilman John Barry made a motion to instruct the consultant to be “brutally honest” in the assessment of the tower. He said he has passed this instruction on the Robinson Green Beretta group. “The two main things we want to know are, what is the problem and how to fix it. I told them to give both the short- and long-term costs,” said Hill.
Hill said he believes the problem stems from the type of bricks used back when the art deco-style City Hall was first constructed in 1935. He said it appears that the old bricks are highly porous, which could have had something to do with the quality of materials that were available during the Depression. He said that while he doesn't know exactly how long the tower has been leaking in its 77-year history, it appears that “weep holes” to help with drainage had been installed at the base of the tower at some point after the original construction.
Hill, who has lengthy experience as a civil engineer, noted that there are numerous ways the leaking problem can be treated, but much will depend on costs. “We could shrink wrap the whole thing, or there are products that can be used to coat the bricks, but then this affects the historical nature of the building,” Hill said. “Then it comes down to, is it pretty or is it safe?” He also said considerations would likely have to be weighed between short-term solutions versus more costly long-term fixes.
City officials and prior news accounts detail problems in the tower that have gone on for decades, and money was spent on significant repairs in 1974, and again in 1998.
However, city officials and workers say that new cracks have appeared in the brickwork since the last major City Hall restoration project that was completed in 2006. In 2004 and under the administration of Mayor James Doyle, city residents approved a referendum for a $3 million bond for the renovations and repairs. The contractor was NER Construction Management.
Following the City Council's request last week for the “brutal assessment” of the tower, Tony Pires, acting Director of Administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, assured members in a Feb. 1 letter that they will be given the consultants' study in its entirety once it is completed. Pires added that while he knows the Grebien Administration and the council would have preferred to not expend scarce resources on another study, “the greater concern is that water damage continues to occur despite significant amounts of taxpayer money having been spent for repairs that have proven to be certainly ineffective and possibly deficient.”
Pires told the council that Hill will be working with the consultant to determine what the sources of the ongoing leakage problems are and whether the problem areas can be repaired and at what cost.
Pires added that the Grebien Administration has secured the previous construction documents, including contract terms and certificates of insurance, and is reviewing them with the City Solicitor. “Based on the consultant's study, it will be determined if there is any culpability for any previous faulty workmanship and, if so, what proper legal remedies can be pursued by the City,” Pires wrote.

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