Friday, January 31, 2014

The McLellan: Will it meet or exceed our low expectations?

Aye there, ye lads and lassies!  In wee Scotland, we have all sorts of time-honored classics that improve with age.  We have The Macallan, The Balvenie, and the Glenlivet among numerous others.  Most come in a variety of grades, differing in how long they’ve been aged, what their origins and pedigrees are, and what they’ve been aged in.  



We don’t see much here in the lowlands of Bonnie Brunswick that can match the best of the highlands of Scotland.  But you do have The McLellan, which has been aging in cedar clapboard and pine trim for nearly 16 years.  While we don’t detect any peat character, we do detect a subtle nose of diesel in The McLellan.  This distinctive note has revealed itself in the last year or so.  We’re not sure if it will add to the market value or detract from it.

Here you see The McLellan, about which we’ve written numerous times in the past, with a hint of the lowland area that gives it its unique identity.

Given the transition of town offices from the decrepit and shameful Federal Street facilities to The McLellan, the funds being invested in it’s preparation for becoming the seat of Cape Brunswick’s government, and the concerns about it’s underpinnings that had been reported to us, we decided to visit the place this week.

The good news is that our untrained eyes did not detect any glaring problems of a foundational nature, and those we talked to did not report any.  The bad news is that the exterior condition of the building is far worse than we thought and have reported in the past.

Before we get to that, let’s just say that the work going on inside on the first and second floors is far more extensive than we had expected.  It’s hard to tell what was original and what is new, but just about everything we looked was in one stage of construction or another.  And there were industrial sized dumpsters full of demo’ed materials.  It looked to us like a pretty thorough gutting and rebuild.

Here are some interior photos from our visit:




The above is of the council chambers, complete with dramatic overhead treatment for where the council will preside.  We have no way of knowing whether they will sit upon an elevated platform.


Next, here are some exterior shots, including missing trim, rotting trim and surrounding areas, and failed window seals, meaning the double pane benefit has been lost.






You may be tempted to believe these are only ‘cosmetic’ issues; that some sanding, scraping, repriming, and repainting will restore everything to ‘like new condition.’

We disagree.  As substantiation for our view, we have some extremely personal experience with the same circumstances on our own home, which was built in 1997. 

Generally speaking, paint does not deteriorate from the outside in.  Instead, it ‘fails’ because moisture comes in from behind and destroys the bond between the paint and the surface to which it was applied.

This typically means that the underlying material has already been compromised by moisture, leading to dry rot and related forms of decomposition.  That ‘rot’ can spread to adjacent vulnerable materials, including framing, insulation, and sheathing.

Want proof?  We’ve got your proof right here, showing what happened at our own house.  Here’s how the problem began, innocently enough, when our painter discovered a piece of trim that had begun to peel. the result of a construction anomaly and inappropriate caulking.


Here is the progression of damage that was uncovered, and the scale of repairs that were required to deal with it:










All beginning with this little problem area, we remind you:


Unfortunately, we had the same symptoms show up on the rear of our house a year later, necessitating removal of the double dutch doors, and replacement of significant amounts of framing, insulation, and siding, followed by full repaint.


So we look at the ‘cosmetic’ issues at The McLellan as probable symptoms of major, if not catastrophic underlying damage.  The repairs at our place ran into the tens of thousands, and were, fortunately, all covered by our insurance and that of the original contractors.

If you’ve been observant, you noticed similar repairs happening at a number of locations around town in recent years.  Among others, we remember when the Atlantic Federal Credit Union on inner Pleasant Street had a good deal of it’s upper façade stripped off and replaced due to moisture incursion.

Given the immense scale of The McLellan compared to Chez Side, we believe there is monumental liability regarding underlying building conditions, and substantial financial jeopardy for town taxpayers.  The figure of record at the moment is somewhere in the $1.1 to 1.2 million range.  We have the uncomfortable feeling that it could grow well beyond that.  Because we may find that no matter all the assurances, TRS has cropped up once again.


We trust the town council, in seeking its ‘new direction,’ will use due diligence in addressing this possibility, including at their meeting this coming Monday, during which they are scheduled to review the financial status of building adaptation to date.

We have the feeling it will require peeling back the exterior of major portions of the building.  Surely the newly structured council of our ‘peers’ will want to do the right thing, without any prodding from us.

We’re confident you feel the same way. 

You do, don’t you?

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