Replacing the roof at the Umatilla County Courthouse wrapped up Friday, more than three months late.
Roofer Moises Rivera with contractor Titan Roofing of Vancouver, Washington, said he expected the job would take three weeks back in the fall. Then came Eastern Oregon winter temperatures, and a roof Rivera found less than ideal, with a structure lacking effective drainage. But Friday, he said, he was wrapping up the complex job.
The middle section of the courthouse roof leaked for some time, and last year the situation became untenable for the district attorney’s office, which operates on the third floor of the courthouse and closest to the roof. Rain leaked down the walls and dripped from ceiling tiles into the office space and the nearby law library. Staff collected it as best they could.
“We sat up here with buckets on our desks, buckets on the floor, buckets by our chairs,” District Attorney Dan Primus said.
Primus returned to work after one rainy weekend and found his office soaked. The county board of commissioners in September approved Titan’s bid of $169,700 to replace the roof.
Dan Lonai, director of the county’s administrative services, oversaw that process. Titan had one other competitor, Palmer Roofing of Pendleton, but Lonai said Palmer’s bid was about $72,000 more than Titan’s.
“We’re government,” Lonai said, and barring an emergency or unusual circumstances, “we have to go with the lowest bid even though it wasn’t a local contractor.”
Lonai said the work began around the start of October, and the county figured the project would take about a month. Then came November and more rain. And December and colder temperatures. And on Dec. 18, the county moved the district attorney’s staff from the third floor to space in the basement, displacing other county staff.
“It was quite an orchestration, and we had a lot of people willing to help each other out,” Lonai said.
The district attorney’s office has a staff of 27, including two volunteers. They now occupy the spaces for court appointed special advocates and the county’s CARE program, which helps families. Those workers set up for the time being in an old archive room and in the backside of the county elections department. Primus, who has his own office on the third floor, now operates from a podium in the front of legal assistants and deputy district attorneys in space that serves as the break room. The tighter quarters also came with higher temperatures, in spite of winter.
“We had no air conditioning for the first month,” Primus said, “and it was running in the 80s.”
Some deputy prosecutors have private offices. Those offices have the family photos and other mementos of who really works there. Deputy district attorney Dan Pacheco, though, has been working in a literal closet under the courthouse stairs. He knows every time someone stomps to get the snow off their boots.
The change also required stuffing office furniture, file cabinets and more into the law library. Primus said the whole scene feels like moving a house when you’re not sure where you put everything. The most challenging part, he said, was finding secure space for the thousands upon thousands of case files his office keeps. He estimated courthouse staff moved as many as 15,000 files that go back to 2014.
“They are the files we need on hand if we go to court,” he said.
State and federal laws mandate the district attorney’s office secure files because they can contain sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers or identifiers of crime victims. The sheriff’s office once upon a time operated in the courthouse and had a vault in the basement. The files now fill shelves and cover much of that old floor.
Getting the files there took a couple of days, Primus said, and his staff spent a weekend organizing them.
Primus, like Lonai, was thankful to all the courthouse staff that bent over backward to help his office. But he said he is eager to get back to the third floor. That space allowed for better communication and camaraderie. A deputy attorney could pop out of an office, for example, and ask a legal assistant a few feet away for help or to check the court docket.
“We don’t have that right now,” he said.
The leaking roof also led to damage of walls and carpets. Pendleton Floors is handling the carpet work, but even some of the new carpeting shows signs of water damage. The flooring crew also is doing its best to level rises and dips on the third floor. Primus said that’s a significant improvement. Some places were so off kilter, he said, chairs rolled away from desks.
Although the roofing contractor was finishing Friday, Lonai said moving everyone back to their offices won’t happen right away. The county is paying about half of the bid price, he said, which covers the cost of materials, and holding on to the rest of the money to make sure that roof no longer leaks.
“We’re hoping this cold weather breaks some in the next week or two,” he said, “so we get a good rain.”