Taos County’s Amalia Senior Center (the Center) has been closed for three years due to structural issues in its foundation. The Center’s future is uncertain.
Questa del Rio News interviewed Taos County Construction Manager Richard Sanchez who gladly provided information on the status of the Center. Credible speculation points to a possible demolition of the building due to compounding structural issues that could drive up repair costs.
Sanchez revealed that the building’s foundation is so unstable that structural issues became visible within the building’s interior in the form of wall separations, floor movements, and cracked floors and walls, to an extent which became hazardous to the staff.
“The structure has been settling since it’s been built,” said Sanchez. “The northwest corner has settled almost seven inches over seven years.”
“It’s not sitting on good soil.”
“The concern was that because the corner has dropped so much that now it becomes a trip hazard for staff and people who use the building,” said Sanchez. “It doesn’t look like it’s gonna fall down right now but, the walls are not attached to the foundation anymore, [so] it could blow over.”
Current estimates place the cost of the repair work at $1,500,000 to $1,700,000, according to Sanchez, and that repair work would keep the building from continuing to settle.
The County has recently collaborated with two engineering companies to evaluate the Center, Western Technologies Inc. and Chavez-Grieves Consulting Engineers Inc. In a test performed by Western Technologies (WTI), multiple holes 20 feet deep were dug around the Center. They could not find optimal soil for construction.
“It looks like it might have been built on an old dump,” joked Sanchez during the interview.
Sanchez explained that the optimal method to repair the structure would be to drill steel beams down into the ground until either rock or “good soil” is found, then bolt them to the building, and then you can lift the building up. The issue is that there is uncertainty around the necessary depth below the building, so it may be less expensive to demolish the structure and start over from scratch. Just the equipment necessary to drill below the structure and then lift it up is estimated at $1.25 million.
“Not only is the building settling in the ground but it appears that the ground is settling around the building. The ground itself has settled twice in the ten years that I’ve worked for the county… The ground itself is settling faster than the building, even, so it’s a bunch of different issues.”
Questa del Rio News inquired Sanchez about the possibility of finding a new location for a new Senior Center for Amalia.
Apparently the Amalia Community Center, about a 100 feet away from the Senior Center, had some initial cracks in its foundation at the time of its construction but they were repaired. In contrast, the Senior Center keeps getting worse and worse.
The Questa Senior Center has been taking up responsibilities for seniors in Amalia, including meal delivery. Sanchez estimates that the new senior center at La Cienega will be complete in 2024.
Sanchez also revealed that the county is in talks with the Questa Independent School District about the possibility of leasing the Costilla school for senior center services. No decision on that as of now.
No seniors are housed at the Taos County senior centers. Most of the services provided involve meal preparation and delivery. The senior centers also provide tax preparation for seniors during tax season.
There has not been an official decision on the possibility of a demolition but Sanchez believes that is a likely outcome. The demolition project is estimated at $300,000 including trucking the debris to the Taos landfill.
The Center received $1,450,000 from the New Mexico Legislature last year and Sanchez says that money is currently being held for either repairs to the current building or the construction of a new building.
Questa del Rio News obtained a copy of an amendment to a safety assessment on the Center from Chavez-Grieves dated September 21, 2022, in which the company concurs with a report from WTI dated September 15, 2022, as well as adds new information regarding the status of the Center. The two companies concur in the following opinion:
“The primary cause and origin of the distress causing floor and building movement is settling of floor slab and foundations caused by moisture percolating into the soft and poorly consolidated sub-grade silty sandy soils. Evidence of trash in the soils indicates poor quality control during the backfill and foundation preparation work. Rainstorm runoff and snow accumulation are in the moisture sources due to inadequate drainage or removal of snow. Close to eight inches of differential slab foundation settlement has occurred that requires remediation to bring the building back into safe occupancy mode. No utility leaks were found at this time.”
Chavez-Grieves highlights three principle issues around the Center in its most recent report.“The success of the recommendations made by Chavez-Grieves is dependent on the County’s ability to maintain positive storm water drainage away from the building, the ability to maintain roof water drainage at least ten feet away from the building, and the ability to repair any water leaks from plumbing or radiant heating systems.”
WTI recommends that the settled foundation of the Center be lifted with helical pliers, also called push pliers, as well as the replacement of portions of floor slab.
Sanchez opined that these issues should have been looked at before the building was constructed in 2005, and he does not know why proper testing of the soil was not performed. The name of the company involved in the construction of the Center is Amalia Construction.