Cracks spread in new animal shelter

Mesa County Animal Services Manager Lisa Armour brings Brandy past a crack in the floor, shown at left, in the new shelter facility near Whitewater. The project manager for the county said a county engineer recommended soil mitigation measures to the contractor. “We’re trying to determine if corners were cut,” another county official said.

Less than four months after opening a state-of-the-art, $2 million facility to house stray dogs and cats, Mesa County and the building contractor are trying to figure out how to stem a web of cracks that has spread across the floor of the new Animal Services building on Orchard Mesa.

The cracks were caused by water seeping into the soil underneath the building, a potential problem county officials were aware of at the time of construction but believed they had taken sufficient steps to mitigate, according to Dave Detwiler, project coordinator with the county Facilities and Parks Department.

Detwiler said the fissures first began appearing in November — five months before the 7,700-square-foot facility at 971 Coffman Road opened — and are still showing up, making it difficult to determine how long the problem will persist. The cracks haven’t compromised the walls or roof of the structure and haven’t affected Animal Services’ operations.

“It’s just kind of something we need to let play out,” Detwiler said. “It’s not the kind of issue that should be a long-term problem.”

He compared the soil, known as expansive shale, to a dry sponge, in that it expands when it gets wet. The expanded soil cracked a concrete slab that sits between the foundation and the base of the Animal Services building.

Detwiler said a county soils engineer recommended that the contractor, Denver-based CMC Group, remove 4 feet of expansive shale and replace it with what’s known as structural fill to try to create a more stable base. The engineer also recommended erecting the building at a high enough elevation to ensure water drains away from it.

County officials are looking into whether CMC followed the engineer’s recommendations.

Commissioner wants answers

“We’re trying to determine if corners were cut,” Regional Services Director Tom Fisher said.

CMC owner Richard Benes didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said he learned about the cracks when he visited the Animal Services building last month. He said he found employees having trouble opening the front door because the ground had shifted.

“It’s something that fell through the cracks, apparently,  and it’s my intention of getting to the bottom of it and making sure, one, the mistakes don’t repeat themselves and, two, whoever is accountable and responsible for this is responsible,” Meis said.

“It’s certainly been a thorn in my side. I haven’t been very happy about it.”

Meis said most of the pitfalls that could crop up by building on expansive shale could be avoided through proper engineering.

“You have to live on another planet not to know we have some expansive soils here in the Grand Valley,” he said.

Fisher noted that nearby county landfill buildings sit upon expansive shale. He said the county built the Animal Services building in that area because it already owned the land and the soil there “is no worse than anywhere else.”

Repair costs paid

The county said CMC has paid for all of the floor repairs thus far. The only permanent repairs were completed on cracks that first appeared in November once officials determined that portion of the floor had stopped moving. CMC has caulked all the other cracks and will continue making those temporary repairs until the floor stops shifting, Fisher said.

Although CMC and the county have worked well together on the repairs, the two entities have split on the county’s handling of the money still owed to CMC.

Detwiler said the county has paid CMC all but roughly $154,000 of the $2 million project cost, keeping the balance until it’s satisfied with the job.

Fisher said CMC claims it doesn’t have enough money to pay all of its subcontractors because the county is retaining the final payment. But Fisher said the county is within its rights to do that because “we don’t have a satisfactory product yet.”

In addition to holding onto the final payment to CMC, the county is negotiating with the company to try to extend the one-year warranty on the building.

“If any of these problems go beyond a year, we want to be protected,” Fisher said.

Ultimately, he said, “I think we’re going to get a positive resolution to this. We’re just waiting for a period of time for the movement to stop.”


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