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Politicians enter fray over post office repairs


After years of unsafe conditions, Oregon legislators sternly request change

COURTESY PHOTO: JAMES FRANCISCO, USPS CONSUMER & INDUSTRY CONTACT MANAGER - Damaged interior and exterior walls and awnings -- which have exposed electrical wiring -- are just a few of the maintenance repair needs at the ailing Forest Grove Post Office. Frayed wiring dangles from the ceiling at the Forest Grove Post Office, and on especially rainy days postal employees can be found working in ankle-deep water.

Concerned residents and post office patrons have complained on social media and in public meetings about the building’s condition. Employees have submitted repair requests to the USPS facilities department. And now, U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have called for action.

In a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan, the Oregon politicians asked for the USPS to take action and remedy the problems — ASAP.

“We are writing to request a timely resolution of ongoing issues at the Post Office in Forest Grove, Oregon,” the letter states. “As you know, the facility where the Forest Grove Post Office is located has been plagued by a multitude of structural and mechanical deficits, including plumbing, heating and electrical issues, as well as problems with the building’s exterior façade.

“We encourage USPS to give full consideration to the concerns of Forest Grove Post Office employees — including going beyond minimal standards — when planning and making repairs to the facility,” the letter continues, requesting “swift resolution of these concerns” and “a summary and timeline for completion of needed ... improvements.” Maintenance requests

Between November 2010 and July 2015, USPS’ maintenance department in Portland received 77 maintenance requests from the Forest Grove office — 10 of them marked as “routine,” 59 of them as “urgent” and eight as “emergency.”

The requests have covered the entire building, from leaking toilets and faucets to stained and stinky ceiling tiles. And while many of the problems have been resolved, plenty of others haven’t. COURTESY PHOTO: JAMES FRANCISCO, USPS CONSUMER & INDUSTRY CONTACT MANAGER - Several taped notes near damaged and broken equipment highlight the severity of the issues plaguing the Forest Grove Post Office.

According to sources within the USPS, 77 is a rather high number as maintenance requests go — but it’s also not terribly surprising to anyone familiar with the building.

“The Forest Grove facility has a lot of issues going on with it,” said Daniel Cortez, state officer for the Oregon Postal Worker’s Union. “We appreciate the work of elected officials to address safety concerns.”

United States Postal Service Spokesman John Friess provided this official USPS response:

“The Postal Service appreciates Oregon’s congressional leaders’ interest in the status of the Forest Grove, OR Post Office. We remain committed to serving the community of Forest Grove and have every intention of renewing the Postal Service’s lease at the 21st Avenue location with current ownership. We have continued to make rent payments and are taking the next steps to address new lease options and existing maintenance issues.”

Those next steps are “simply working with the owner to address the identified maintenance issues,” Friess said in an email.

‘Working with the owner’

Typically, when a request for maintenance is filed, the request will go to the USPS Lease Enforcement Group in Denver, Colo., where administrators decide whether the landlord or USPS is obliged to fix it. The request is then forwarded to the maintenance department at the Portland district office. Depending on the problem’s severity or urgency — and the landlord’s tardiness in responding — the USPS may opt to simply fix the issue itself and bill the landlord later.

That’s what happened in 2013 when the USPS paid $3,944.13 for boiler repairs and sent the bill to then-owner Karen Gladyschild. When Gladyschild failed to respond, the USPS simply deducted the cost from its next rent payment.

Following a September bankruptcy filing and December auction at which no bidders were present, ownership of the building passed from Gladyshild to her creditor, the Atlanta Postal Credit Union. Neither responded to requests for comment.

But there’s still plenty of other problems that need attention, Bonamici told the News-Times Friday.Crumbling exterior and interior walls were part of a long list of 77 maintenance requests (from 2010 to 2015) at the Forest Grove post office.

“We were hoping for a resolution without our involvement,” Bonamici said. “But we felt we needed to heighten awareness for the need to take action out here in Forest Grove.

“It really is about making sure the Post Office is a safe place for the employees who work there, but also for the people of Forest Grove,” she added.

‘Highest safety standards’

Forest Grove is bracing for rapid growth after the city council approved a development agreement to construct an apartment complex directly behind the post office at the former Times-Litho site.

With that growth will inevitably come more residents. As it is, the post office’s cramped lobby and lack of parking is a problem for residents who visit the facility, a postal worker said.

What’s going to happen when there are even more people?

“The Postal Service has some of the highest safety standards in the nation — on paper,” Cortez said. “We would like to see those standards maintained.”

Several new maintenance requests have already been filed since Postmaster Attila Kiss took over the position in January, Cortez said.

“We are pleased with the direction of the office’s new leadership,” Cortez said. “I have every faith and confidence the Postal Service system will work the way it’s supposed to as long as the attention stays on it,” he added. “Squeaky wheel gets the grease, you know?” COURTESY PHOTO: JAMES FRANCISCO, USPS CONSUMER & INDUSTRY CONTACT MANAGER - Several taped notes near damaged and broken equipment highlight the severity of the issues plaguing the Forest Grove Post Office.

Between Kiss’ aggressive push to get maintenance issues resolved and the congressional push for the USPS to respond, it is possible the Forest Grove post office might finally see some positive changes.

Some people even wonder whether it would be more cost-effective to simply move the entire operation to a new building rather than continue to throw money at a dilapidated structure.

“Is it better to throw $500,000 at repairing a defunct building, or to pay $1 million to build a new one?” one Forest Grove employee asked.

Others fear the USPS might just see this as an excuse to close the facility and merge Forest Grove’s service with Cornelius or Gaston. COURTESY PHOTO: JAMES FRANCISCO, USPS CONSUMER & INDUSTRY CONTACT MANAGER - According to several repair requests, the boiler at the Forest Grove Post Office used to occasionally set itself on fire before receiving much-needed repairs in 2013. It's not clear whether the boiler is now fully functional.

“With the wave of closures and consolidations across the nation, I hope this doesn’t lead to something negative for the people of Forest Grove — that the USPS doesn’t think of this as a reason to close this facility,” Cortez said.

Such a move would run into Congressional resistance, according to Bonamici: “It would absolutely concern me if there were plans to shut it down.”