Soil cause of The Domain’s structural damage

Work on the damaged Building 8 was completed June 30 and cosmetic repairs will done in July.
Photo of The Domain at Columbia, an off-campus housing complex for students, located off Stadium Boulevard in Columbia, Mo.

Since structural damage forced students out of their The Domain apartments in April and controversy arose over the Opus Group’s District Lofts building plans, concerns developed over the city of Columbia’s building regulations.

Junior Ria Knapp, a former resident of The Domain who was moved to a hotel during construction, said she felt uneasy about the situation.

“It makes me nervous seeing these complexes going up so fast,” Knapp said.

She said she worries contractors might not be putting enough time into ensuring student housing is built correctly.

The Domain’s foundation settling was caused by either inadequate soil testing or lack of compression. According to Terracon Consultants’ original geotechnical investigative report on the site, the soil foundation consisted of a clay soil substance, with various amounts of sand, gravel and shale mixed in. The instability of this type of foundation can cause problems if not compressed properly, as was seen by the cracks in the walls of several apartments in Building 8.

“This kind of soil presents swelling,” Simon said. “It’s certainly not uncommon to have foundation move with this kind of soil. I feel how they’re proceeding now should be adequate, if they’re hitting bedrock.”

A report commissioned by SCI Engineering in November 2014 claimed that Terracon tested the compression and soil prior to the construction of the housing complex.

Early signs of distress in Building 8, the epicenter of the damage, were detected in mid-2013. To remedy this, an array of piers were installed underneath the building to help lift it up.

In October 2013, Campus Advantage, an outside company that manages student housing across the country, bought The Domain. Campus Advantage spokesperson Mark Evans said they were not aware of the settling problems when they purchased the complex.

After further movement was observed in the building, Campus Advantage installed more piers in August 2014, without a permit. The company representatives explained to residents during meetings that they were not aware that the damage was anything more than cosmetic, Knapp said.

Columbia Building Regulations Supervisor John Simon said the city follows the 2012 International Building Codes. In order for property owners to construct buildings, they must fill out a permit application, submit building plans and undergo numerous inspections. Following these regulations, Simon said Columbia has not had a lot of problems with buildings, especially not to the extent the Domain has seen.

Simon said the city does not provide contractors. Property owners hire their own. Since learning about the extent of the settling in Building 8, Campus Advantage requested a geotechnical investigation from SCI Engineering in November and has complied with their suggestions on how to proceed.

Two different kinds of push piers and helical anchors were drilled into the foundation of Building 8 until they reached bedrock—about 40 feet deep—along with an engineered fill, a sort of concrete substance, in the soil. The intent is to push the building up and stabilize the underlying soil.

Simon requested that a third-party inspector monitor the construction regularly for safety.

The city is in the process of updating to the 2015 Building Codes, which will feature provisions concerning certain regulations. Simon said the city has also been working with the public to improve energy efficiency and infrastructure. Citizens voted recently on a tax increase to help improve the city’s infrastructure, storm sewage and electricity. Simon wouldn’t comment on specifics of the revisions as they are still being discussed.

“It’ll be a learning process for us all,” Simon said. “I think it’s good we’re getting a lot of citizen input.”

The revisions will be out later this year.

Despite the experience with The Domain, Knapp said she appreciates the accommodations Campus Advantage provided during the construction. However, she does have one complaint.

“I feel like we should’ve been told at least a couple of months in advance,” Knapp said.

Although she will not be living there next year, she said it is not because of all that has happened.

Construction on Building 8 was completed June 30 and cosmetic repairs are expected to be done by the end of July.

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