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City Hall defect concerns Council
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Buckling panels in Belleair Beach City Hall are removed to check for underlying problems. Architect Ward Friszolowski (standing) was glad to see the wall showed no evidence of moisture intrusion.
BELLEAIR BEACH – Buckling wood panels on the wall behind the dais in the main meeting room of Belleair Beach City Hall have Council and city staff members concerned over the building’s condition.

The city hall was constructed in 2009 at a cost of more than $3 million and has been a great source of pride for the community.

Ward Friszolowski of the architectural firm Harvard Jolly, which was responsible for the City Hall construction, gave a progress report on possible causes for the problem at the Dec. 3 council meeting.

“We are in the discovery phase” of evaluating the situation, Friszolowski said.

Friszolowski pointed out excessive humidity at the outset as a likely cause.

Outside issues, which could have allowed moisture to seep into the building, have been addressed first, he said. Almost all of the recommendations to deal with damage from outside causes have been implemented, he said. Openings in the concrete block wall behind the panels have been sealed, Friszolowski said, and coating applied underneath.

Turning up the temperature in the building to save air conditioning costs raises humidity levels and could have contributed to the problem. Frequent rental of the building to outside groups, which has been a moneymaker for the city, has sometimes resulted in doors being left open. That allows heat and humidity to enter the building and could be another contributor, Friszolowski said.

“We have done a number of things to date” to help prevent the damage from reoccurring, he said.

Friszolowski told the council that the next step is to look at causes inside the building. That was scheduled for the following morning when the panels were to be removed.

“We’ll finish by looking from an interior perspective,” he said. “We’ll see what we see, and should know a lot more once the panels are removed.”

The panels are made of Marlite, which is an engineered product, 100 percent wood, about a quarter inch thick. According to an Internet description of the product, Marlite resists moisture and is sealed for durability and ease of maintenance. It is also listed as “rot resistant.”

Friszolowski assured council member Rob Baldwin that the repairs would be expedited so the city hall’s major gathering area would not be left in an unfinished state for an extended period of time.

The Harvard Jolly architectural firm has agreed to pay all costs associated with fixing the problem, Mayor Kathy Mortensen said following the meeting.

“It’s not our responsibility, it’s the architect’s,” she said.

The next morning, the panels were removed and the issue was found to be less serious than expected. After examining the panels and the wall behind, Friszolowski and his associates concluded the problem was related to expansion and contraction of the boards. There was absolutely no evidence of moisture intrusion through the wall. The buckling of the panels is most likely due to excessive humidity in the building, which had been a suspected cause, Friszolowski said.

The problem is cosmetic rather than structural, which is good news, he said.

The solution is relatively easy.

“We will install expansion/contraction joints in the affected panels and that should eliminate the problem,” he said.

It is expected the old panels can be reused.

City Manager Nancy Gonzales was pleased to find that more serious issues such as water intrusion were not involved.

“I am relieved,” she said after hearing the findings.
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