Center for Living hit with flood

Pipe break nearly destroys new social service building

Staff members at the Mid-Columbia Center for Living experienced deja-vu as they set up shop this week in their old headquarters at 13th and State streets in Hood River.

The center’s new facility on Woods Court in the Heights, which is little more than a year old, sits empty after a water main broke inside the building last week and caused extensive damage.

“There was water coming out of every door,” said Todd Jacobson, program manager with the Center for Living and one of the first to arrive for work on the morning of June 3. It took him a few moments to comprehend what was going on as he stood in the flooded parking lot, then it was “sheer panic,” he said. The city public works department arrived and shut off the water main, but the water pouring from the building didn’t subside.

“Finally we figured out there were two mains,” Jacobson said. The pipe that had burst fed the building’s fire protection and sprinkler system. The water main for that system was finally shut off by the fire department.

Jacobson opened the building’s doors, which brought more water flooding out. He and other employees arriving for work walked into what Jacobson called “total devastation” inside the 11,000-square-foot facility. Several inches of water filled hallways and offices throughout most of the building. Walls were cracked and ceiling tiles dislodged.

“We told everybody to get out,” Jacobson said. “We didn’t know what the structural integrity of the building was at that point.” Staff members ran back in to get medications that are vital to many of the agency’s clients, then proceeded to carry on work from their cell phones in the parking lot. The Center for Living provides services to people with mental illness and addiction problems and those with developmental disabilities in Hood River and Wasco counties.

A restoration company was contacted immediately and worked 24 hours a day for seven days after the incident, removing all furniture and equipment from the building as well as the carpet. A 12-inch section of sheetrock that was water damaged was cut out from the bottom of walls throughout the building. The company installed huge fans and an intricate drying system to extract excess moisture from the air.

“A major long-term problem we’re facing is mold,” said Sharon Guidera, executive director of the Center for Living. According to Guidera, 15 out of 25 computers in the building were ruined. Fortunately, the agency’s Hood River offices were networked via computer with its offices in The Dalles, so client appointments and most records were unaffected. Some files in filing cabinets on the floor sustained damage, but Guidera expects most of them to be salvageable.

Guidera, who was out of town until a couple of days after the catastrophe, credits her staff with fast thinking immediately after the incident as well as quick work in getting the agency back on its feet with little disruption to clients.

“An executive director could not have asked for a more competent response,” Guidera said. She cited Jacobson as well as Lynn Garcia, business manager, and Valerie Bellus, business services, for “organizing the response” after the incident. The agency moved back into its old quarters at 13th and State, which was still vacant.

“We’re stuffed in there,” said Guidera, who’s been told it will be three to four months before she and her staff of 26 can return to the Woods Court facility — a timeline she calls “optimistic.”

Contractors are working at the site to determine the nature of the structural damage caused by the pipe break, whose force shoved the concrete foundation immediately above it up several inches. Large cracks also appeared elsewhere in the foundation. In addition, several walls are off kilter and the roof is bowed, indicating extensive structural damage.

Guidera said “all the insurance companies are working real hard” to determine what caused the rupture — and who’s liable. So far, nothing specific has been determined, although officials are looking at a variety of potential causes ranging from defective pipe equipment to faulty installation.

“You just don’t expect a new building to have problems like this,” Guidera said. “It was a four year project and you think you’re done.”

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