RIO COMMUNITIES—While the exterior of Rio Communities City Hall has been refurbished with new stucco, new stonework, new outdoor spaces and new grass, one neighbor is upset the city has not fixed new damages done to his building during construction.

Ron Gentry, who purchased the old Valley Improvement Association building in early March, and Paul Baca, the CEO of VIA, said they both were assured by city officials that any damage done by the construction would be fixed. To date, nothing has happened.

Soon after Gentry bought the building, he announced he would donate the property to anyone who would put in a health care facility. He said seven health-care related companies have since contacted him about the 15,000-square-foot space, but he can’t show it — or even market it — because of the damage on the north side of building.

“When the city was working on the remodel project, I was asked to go to one of the meetings, and at the time, they were explaining the project,” Baca said. “I met with the architect and we walked around the building and they showed me what they were going to do.”

They told Baca they were going to take down the two breezeways that connected the two buildings, and that they would “button them up” and they would redo the drainage system on the VIA building.

When the construction began in September 2018, construction crews demolished the breezeways between the buildings, leaving large spaces open to the elements, including rain and snow.

“I met with (Mayor Mark Gwinn) several times … and he told me they were going to take care of it,” Baca said.

In February, VIA’s insurance company did a walk-through of the building and noticed the damage to the building. Baca again got reassurance from the mayor that they were “going to take care of it,” and he informed his insurance company of the city’s promise.

Baca then received a letter from the project engineer, saying there was extensive damage to the structure, alleging it was from repairs VIA hadn’t completed to the building. They told him they didn’t know the extent the repairs that needed to be done and were going to have to have it engineered.

The portion of the building that has received the most damage used to be leased to MyBank for years. During that time, Baca said, there had been no damage. It wasn’t until construction crews demolished the breezeway that water started leaking through the ceiling.

Ron Gentry said water has gotten into the awning, causing damage to the structure.

“When they demolished that portion of the overhang, the contractor put boards up to shore it up,” he said. “In doing that, he placed the board that actually lifted it higher, causing the water to flow back or pooled in the area.

“Repairs were needed on the building, but not to that extent,” he says. “It was mostly cosmetic.”

During VIA’s negotiations with Gentry, Baca explained what was happening with the damage to the building and explained to him the city had assured him they would fix the problem.

“I called Mark, and we met with Ron, and asked him to explain what was going on,” Baca said. “(Mark) said they were going to take care of it and it was covered in the contract (with the contractor.)”

Gentry also said Gwinn gave him his word the city was going to fix the problem.

“We shook hands and left,” Gentry said of his meeting with the mayor. “We waited and waited. It rained. It snowed. And then we noticed that parts of the ceiling where the bank was was leaking.”

Gentry’s new insurance company gave him a deadline to have the damage fixed — April 30, 2019. Gentry said as the deadline approached, and the city wasn’t living up to its promise, he asked a contractor to come by and give him an estimate.

“He did some work on the (south) side, and then went to the other side,” he said. “They (the city’s contractors) told me I couldn’t go in that side of the building. They had put a fence up.”

Gentry’s contractor had told him he could fix it for about $3,000. The deadline date had come and gone and Gentry told the city he would pay to have it fixed, but he says the mayor wouldn’t sign off on it.

“I withdrew my offer and told them they had to fix it,” Gentry said of the city.

After a lot of back and forth with city officials, Baca said he decided to call Councilors Bill Brown and Peggy Gutjahr, and met with them independently. He said both councilors told him they thought the matter had been settled.

“The issue hadn’t been settled,” Baca said. “They told me they had approved the expenditure for $3,000 and thought it was taken care of.

“Both VIA and Ron need to be indemnified in the event that building floods,” Baca said. “They changed the flow of water, they had an $80,000 drainage study done, so if they’re confident in the drainage plan, then they should have no problem indemnifying either one of us.”

Baca and Gentry have since reached out to one of the contractors who worked on the project and he told them he would charge $2,800 to fix the building.

Last month, Gentry stood in front of the council during a meeting and told them about the damage and said the city needs to pay to have the building repaired. He said with the monsoons soon approaching, he’s afraid more damage will be done to his building.

“After the meeting, the city manager, Leisa Haynes, came up to me and told me to go to her office because they had a check for $2,800 for me,” Gentry said. “I told her I wasn’t the contractor and I couldn’t take the money. She said they made the check out to me and that I could give it to the contractor to fix the building.”

Gentry, who is a former state legislator and a county commissioner, said he told Haynes she would be violating the anti-donation clause if she gave him a check.

“They just don’t want to do it for some reason,” Gentry said. “I think it has to do with a little bit of personality and a lot of politics. I just want them to do what’s right.”

When contacted on Monday, Gwinn said he couldn’t talk about the issues because attorneys have become involved, even though Gentry has not threatened litigation.

Haynes said she thought they had worked out a solution with Gentry, saying if he provided an invoice, both he and the city would write each other letters indemnifying one another of damage.

She also said while the construction crews did separate the awning, the majority of damage inside was done prior to construction.

“The damage wasn’t done in the last eight months, it was done long before,” Haynes said. “The damage was already there. The construction didn’t cause the holes in the awning, just on the outside of it.”

The city manager said the city did promise to install a 6-inch wide seamless gutter system to Gentry’s building, but the awning has to be repaired first.

“I guess we’ll have to go to court because we can prove there was damage there before,” she said. “We have professionals who will attest to that and that the water damage was caused before the construction began.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.