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Help planned for aching Rockwood neighborhood

Daily Journal of Commerce

September 7th 2010

Despite having the highest poverty levels in east Multnomah County, the Rockwood neighborhood has few social services available.

That will soon change, however. Eight social-service organizations, which serve a total of 80,000 clients annually, are scheduled to move into the Rockwood Building next year. The three-story building, presently under construction at Southeast 181st Avenue between Couch and Davis streets, also will include two floors of affordable housing.

But space requirements created a design challenge for Myhre Group Architects. The project team found the building would need a structural system more commonly used in bridges.

Generally, for such a facility, architects would choose a typical wood-frame structure because it is the most cost effective, according to Devin Follingstad, project manager with Myhre Group Architects. Social-service groups' specific square footage requirements, however, meant a typical structural system would be out of the question, Follingstad said.

With 23,000 square feet for ground-floor services and 52,000 square feet of housing spread across two floors, a stick-frame structural system simply would not be able to support the weight.

"Some (tenants) couldn't use more than a certain amount, which meant adding square footage to the ground floor wasn't possible," Follingstad said. "With two floors of apartments on top, we needed a system that could support that over a smaller ground-floor footprint."

The design team used cantilever trusses to allow the upper floors to extend over the building's sidewalks so that all 47 housing units would fit, Follingstad said. A cantilever is a beam fixed at one end that can extend beyond its support to form an anchorage point and increase stability. This structural system is often used in construction of bridges to allow them to extend far over waterways without constructing additional supports.

Despite increasing the project's cost to $16.9 million, the protruding upper stories of the Rockwood Building create an attractive and welcoming presence, said Jean Demaster, director of Human Solutions. The building is adjacent to a former Fred Meyer site at 18535 S.E. Stark St. The city hopes a major developer will revitalize the 6.5-acre property.

"The area where the building is located has been a vacant lot for 30 years," Demaster said. "Now there will be an attractive building there when the Fred Meyer site starts to be redeveloped."

"This area has been depressed for many decades," Follingstad said. "We wanted to design something that stands out and welcomes people. We could have done something that blended in, but the tenants really wanted this building to show the neighborhood is open for business."

Loaves & Fishes, one of the eight service groups set to move into the new building, has had a small satellite location in a Rockwood apartment building for some time. But its director of communications, Julie Piper Finley, says the apartments have no street frontage, and many residents don't know that the meal provider is there.

Finley hopes the Rockwood Building's central location and striking design will increase Loaves & Fishes' visibility in the community.

"Now we're going to be collocated with other services so seniors can come for medical care or other services and stay for lunch," Finley said. "It makes a lot of sense (for) a community with such a large elderly population."
Howard S. Wright Constructors is scheduled to finish the project by July 2011, Demaster said.