A report from the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration has cited the Police Activities League for three violations, two labeled "serious" at the youth center at 424 N.E. 172nd, raising concerns about the potential risk to children and staff of exposure to asbestos, present in the floor tiles of a girls' restroom and a staff restroom.
The first two "serious" violations say that asbestos was found in deteriorated floor tiles in the girls' restroom and a staff restroom. The third citation is for failing to create a safety committee and hold safety meetings. The citation includes a $100 fine for the two "serious" violations.
If OSHA inspectors believed that asbestos was being released into the air, however, they would have tagged the rooms and made them off limits until the risk was abated. They did not do that.
Expert Says Risk to Health is Low
Dave Monroe, an air quality specialist with the State of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, says the type of tile in the bathrooms poses a very low risk of causing harm to health. That's because those tiles don't release asbestos into the air unless they are pulverized.
"The risk is very low with material like that," he said. "The type of floor is considered nonfriable, so it's considered very likely not to release asbestos fibers."
Asbestos fibers in the air can harm the lungs and lead to respiratory diseases in later life. The deteriorated floor tiles may have released asbestos fibers into the air inside the restrooms. Many older buildings contain asbestos, and the youth center also has asbestos in its ceiling.
The agency gave PAL until April 19 to show they had taken steps to remedy the problems, but PAL is no longer in charge of the building. The nonprofit, whose board includes prominent law enforcement personnel announced in February it had run out of money to operate. It closed down its administrative offices less than a week later. Since then Beaverton City Council and supporters in Washington County have come together to keep the Westside club open. They are looking for long-term funding solutions for the West Portland youth center.
Boys and Girls Clubs Take Over Eastside Youth Center
Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland Metropolitan Area stepped in to take over the East Portland facility. But Erin Hubert the CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs said she was never informed that the floor tiles contain asbestos.
"This is the first time I'm hearing this, that there is asbestos in the floor," Hubert said. "All my concern has been about the roof. We knew there is asbestos in the roof and there are tiles falling down and leaks. So my first question was is it safe?"
Hubert says she has been in talks with the City of Gresham, who own the building and was told that the building was safe enough to keep open the program. But she says she also was informed that the building had passed an OSHA inspection.
In fact, OSHA looked at the building on Jan 10 and March 6, 2013 and found that damaged tiles on the staff and girls' restroom floors present a risk of exposure. The vinyl floor tiles contain 2-3 percent asbestos. Now she knows, Hubert says she will be on the case.
"We're going to get it fixed as soon as possible," she says.
Hubert has been working with the City of Gresham, which owns the building, to assess all the possible safety issues and fix them. She says the building was closed for two days for cleaning and repair. And she also initiated two additional inspections: one for fire safety and one for cleanliness so that staff could feel safe serving food.
Attendance at the center – now named the Rockwood Boys and Girls Club — has fallen from a high of around 300 children and teens a day to around 75-80 currently, Hubert said, connected with staff changes and the temporary closure. She expects to build that back up over time, but is not seeking to do so until the building problems are solved.
Hubert says her first plan was to build a new center at the site before demolishing the existing one. But the site isn't large enough to do that, she says. So now, Boys and Girls clubs are looking for a temporary site to house the youth programs, while the new center is built.
"My original thought was not to operate out of the building because of concerns about the children's safety, but the question was where we could take them," Hubert said. "The worst case scenario is that we'd have to shut down and then they would have no place to go, which would be a disaster."
Hubert, says the Boys and Girls Club plans to build a new center as soon as funds are available.
"We need all the support and funding we can get to keep this center open, that's for sure," she said.
PAL Board and Staff Who Spoke Up Were "Shut Down" and "Forced Out"
The Police Activities League board was always aware that the floor tiles contained asbestos, in addition to the ceilings, said Tyece Okamura, a former board member. Okamura says she was asked to resign from the board last fall after raising numerous concerns about the finances and running of the organization.
Without funds to replace the entire floor, the board decided to cover the tiles with carpet, Okamura said. But the restroom floors were not covered.
Okamura said the deteriorating relationship between executive director Patricia Day TenEyck and then-center director Jay Williams had kept her away from the building last year. Williams was outspoken about his building safety concerns, and about the unmet needs of the teens who used the center.
Okamura says a small group of board members and management resisted attempts to bring the problems into the open and deal with them. Asked for an interview, former board chair Colene Domenech refused, saying current board chair Mark McGinnis could respond to all questions.
"People who tried to step up and say, 'things are not what they should be,' either got totally shut down or, like me, they decided, 'Hey, I just don't need this grief," Okamura says.
"It's so sad because the kids and their families are the ones being left out," she says. "It hurts my heart because the people who started PAL had really good intentions."
Current Police Activities League chair Mark McGinnis, said in an email, that all questions regarding the building should be addressed to the City of Gresham, who are the owners of the building. Laura Shepherd, a spokesperson for the city, said the agreement with Portland's Police Activities League had been clear that upkeep of the building was the responsibility of the nonprofit.
"Our contribution was the building and the land," Shepherd said April 1, "They were responsible for the building and the upkeep." Shepherd said while the details are still under discussion, the city is excited to work with Boys and Girls Clubs of the Portland Metropolitan area. "We see all the good they have brought to other neighborhoods throughout the Portland metropolitan area," she said. "So, of course, we are very excited."
Staff Were Frustrated With Lack of Funds
The program was viewed as one of the city's key front-line crime prevention and gang prevention programs. Serving 150-200 children and teens every day, and providing 80-100 meals a day, the center has been an essential part of the social safety net for some of the city's poorest families.
Yet the nonprofit never managed to raise enough funds to repair the building, even turning down an offer of $20,000 last year, because it had no matching funds. Last year, some of the staff at the building became increasingly frustrated as the roof started leaking and the building looked increasingly run down. They told the Skanner News then that children and teens were going hungry, because their families had no food. Staff wanted to feed them, and sometimes bought food themselves, since PAL had no evening food budget.
Mark McGinnis says the problems reached a crisis point after expected grants did not materialize.
"We've suffered— like so many others –with reduced budgets and reduced foundation grants," says Mark McGinnis who took over from Domenech in February as board director. "So that's a real large contributor to where we stand today. We saw this coming— somewhat. But what we didn't see was how dire it became so quickly.
"Where we came up short was in our grant receipts and in our development of relationships with corporations.
The Oregonian reported the organization last year emptied its $143,000 endowment fund, hoping to replenish it with new funds. But the grants that were written did not get funded. The City of Portland, which previously supported the center with $30,000, did not renew that grant in 2011. Other expected support –from the City of Beaverton Mayor's ball, and from corporate supporters, individuals and board members –never materialized.
Patricia DayTenEyck, former executive director has said the nonprofit's finances had been rocky for some years. Ten Eyck noted that documentation was missing when she came on board and the organization's financial reporting was substandard. Ten Eyck says she was left to play catch-up, but the financial hole was too great.