Work began Tuesday afternoon on the removal of the damaged roof from the Recreation Building, where interior beams sag dramatically and banks of ceiling-suspended TVs are askew.

There will always be a lane of travel open for vehicles on Second Street during the demo, the contractor said.

Custom Design & Construction of Beaverton was awarded an $80,250 contract by the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency to remove the roof. As of now, the urban renewal agency is paying for the demolition work. The Agency’s insurance company has not yet made a determination of coverage for the loss, said Steve Harris, community development director for the city of The Dalles.

Custom Design owner Robert Ward said Thursday the job would take about two weeks.

Initial hopes were to position a crane in the alley behind the building for two to three days of work, but too many electrical wires were back there, Ward said.

The crane work will have to be done from the front of the building, and it will be positioned there two different times, but Second Street will still have one travel lane open for vehicles during those times. Parking on the south side of the street will not be allowed during those times.

He said the crane work would begin sometime next week. Custom Design was already working for Todd Carpenter, who is buying the Recreation from the urban renewal agency, on interior demolition work in the Recreation, which is actually three connected buildings.

The two easternmost buildings are intact, but the westernmost, which held a bowling alley, began showing problems over the summer. A heavy rain event in August, which Carpenter earlier estimated dumped 11.6 tons of water weight on the roof, was a tipping point.

The roof sagged down three feet and the front wall separated from the roof, with a gap of a foot or more in places.

When the building was converted into a bowling alley in 1958, some seven support beams that ran from the front to the back of the building were removed. To support the roof, the top structural arch and a support beam beneath it—both of which run from the front to the back of the building—were bolted together. It was an elegant solution that a series of engineers who have surveyed the building have been impressed with, said Harris

But lack of maintenance over the years led to decay. Both the upper structural arch and the lower support beam are severely cracked now, Ward said.

A series of exposed beams running perpendicular to the support beam are now bowed down as the support beam fractured and sank. Those sagging beams are dramatic looking, but not structural, Ward said.

He’s seen the roof and front wall settle further as he’s been on site. “It moves as we speak. I’m dead serious. I watched it.”

Ward has a crew of six, including him, working right now, and will add another two next week, he said. He had to shore up the roof inside by adding support structures where they had been removed decades ago to make way for the bowling alley. A heavy chain runs from the front wall down to a secure point, holding the wall in place.

The back wall is still “pretty strong,” Ward said. “It has no separation except at the very top.” An interior wall some 20 feet in from the rear wall will be left in place.

He’s braced the bottom side of the ceiling to let the top side sink down to it as it’s dismantled.

Ward said the damage to the building was the worst he’s seen in a commercial building.

He estimated about 40 percent of the wood will be salvaged, and all of the metal. He said very little will go to the landfill.

He will remove the gray tiling and the red metal on the front of the building, and will leave the plywood and front awning. By Thursday morning, most of the letters in the Recreation sign had been dismantled and were leaning against the building.

While the work is described as a controlled demolition, it’s really disassembling the roof, step by step, Ward said.

“The first work is getting it all ready, and then you have two to three days of making it look really different and then you have a couple more days of cleaning that mess up,” Ward said.

“When I’m done, I’ll build a roof on the floor,” he said.

The so-called “cricket roof” is a shallow v-shape, and it will have a drain hooked into the existing drain system. He’ll cover it all with plastic.

Once the work is done, the sidewalk might be able to be opened again, Ward said, although that will be a decision for the city to make.

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