By Tim Leeds
Although Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Mike Rao has been in Havre for almost two years, he and his family are currently living in a hotel.
When Rao returned to his residence from meetings two weeks ago, he found water from an unconnected pipe pouring into the garage. Rao said that after he and his wife, Monica, entered the house they found cracks in the walls and ceilings of the residence.
Bob Hoover, maintenance supervisor at MSU-Northern, said that the house has suffered severe structural damage. He said there is no worry that the structure will collapse or slide down the hill, however.
The water that leaked out seeped through the floor of the garage and collected under the concrete slab it rests on. This softened the soil enough that the end of the garage and the rest of the west wing it is attached to settled about 3 inches, as well as sliding slightly to the side.
The movement of the house has separated bricks the wing is constructed of, broken windows and separated their frames from the exterior walls. The shift also separated interior walls from the ceiling and floor inside the wing, Hoover said.
Rao and his wife have temporarily moved into the Townhouse Inns with their 4-month-old son, Miguel. Rao said that most of their possessions are still in their house. He said this causes some unexpected trips to the house, especially for their infant child's changing needs.
Rao's administrative assistant, Delores Ball, is currently looking for more appropriate housing for the chancellor and his family while the damage to the chancellor's house is assessed and repairs are made.
Hoover said they are still in the process of determining how extensive and expensive the damage and repairs will be. Hoover said one possibility would be to mud-jack the wing back up, realign it and make repairs. He said another would be to simply build a new west wing, or even to remove the wing entirely.
Hoover said a structural organization out of Great Falls made an initial estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. This estimate was from a visual inspection, Hoover said.
He said further investigation raised questions about the stability of the soil the wing rests on. He said after architects and engineers from the state dug a test pit along the side of the house to determine stability, they said they expect the final cost to exceed the initial estimate by quite a bit.
Hoover said that they are waiting for the results of cores samples drilled last week to come in before any final plans can be made. He said the findings will determine how far down construction will have to go to find solid footing to build on. He said that at this point they cannot determine what action will have to be taken.
This process includes finding why the wing slipped at all, Hoover said. He said even with the water leakage, the wing should not have slipped as it did.
Margie Carpenter, of the State Insurance Risk Management Department in Helena, said the state self-insures all state property up to $150,000. She said they have insurance through private providers above that amount. This coverage will pay for any work done.
Carpenter said the property insurance will help pay for housing for the Raos until work on the residence is finished. She said this will be a long-term process.
Hoover said he knows the water line that caused the problem has frozen before. He said the pipe did not actually burst this time, but fittings had been pushed apart, allowing the leak. The line runs out of the wall of the living area through the garage to the exterior of the house.
Rao said that when they returned to the house, water was gushing from the wall where the line enters the garage onto the floor. How long the line had been leaking is not known at this time.