Vista St. Clair


R&H Construction worked with Leeb Architects and Morrison Hershfield to successfully execute the building envelop renovation to the Vista St. Clair Apartment complex in downtown Portland. As part of the renovation, the R&H team replaced 966 windows, repaired the concrete structure surrounding each window opening, painted the entire building, and updated 6,000 square feet of decking on the 14 balconies around the building. The project team removed each window meticulously so not to disturb the window surrounds that were reused, repaired all concrete window openings, and replaced each opening with a brand-new window. In addition to the new windows, the project team was also tasked with removing non-original structures from the personal deck spaces in each unit. Over the years, residents had added their own structures, like sunrooms, to their balcony spaces. Because these were non-compliant with the lease agreement, they had to be removed. Once all non-original structures were dealt with, each deck space had their old coating removed because they were leaking and needed to be releveled then recoated with a high traffic coating.

The largest part of the renovation was the building envelope refresh. The Vista St. Clair was originally built in the 1950’s and had extensive damage and deteriorating materials on the building that needed to be refreshed and repaired. Once the envelope was repaired, the project team painted the entire building with a two-part paint system. The paint consisted of a textured acrylic base coat, and a hydrophobic top coat, designed to shed water and dirt. This two-part system was also tinted with the new building color.


In the last two years, R&H has successfully completed ten projects at the Vista St. Clair. Projects have included renovations to the lobby, fitness center, mail room, leasing office, and rooftop plaza. Our project team has also completed 3 penthouse remodels, and six-unit divisions. In the 1970’s, the building owner combined many two-unit pods to create one larger unit. In the early years, residents were afforded great freedom in the customization of their units including painting brickwork, renovating kitchens, and adding custom structures to their balconies. Unforeseen conditions were the norm with each new unit our team tackled. Our team went back through the Vista St. Clair and separated these combinations to bring the building back to its original state and to create additional rental opportunities. The myriad of completed projects with the same client allowed R&H to be comfortable with the building itself, have strong connections with the residents and staff, and made the team more knowledgeable when faced with challenges and obstacles associated with the building envelope project.

Challenges and Obstacles

The transformation of the exterior of Vista St. Clair was riddled with many complex challenges for the contractor, engineer and architect to overcome. R&H was tasked with transforming the exterior of the Vista St. Clair. This task came with a unique set of challenges and obstacles. The most obvious challenge that followed the team from project kick off to project completion was the occupied environment and safety concerns that came with working around staff and residents. Our project team had to enter each unit numerous times when replacing windows, so strong communication skills were critical when keeping residents informed. Our R&H team introduced photo ID badges for each team member to wear throughout the duration of this process. These badges helped keep residents informed about who was in their unit and which company they were with. In addition, weekly meetings were held with our project team and resident liaison to communicate which units were going to be accessed and any schedule changes that were going to take place. Not only did our project team have to enter living spaces, but we were also chipping and roto-hammering on the exterior of the building. All noisy work and work involving unit entries were completed during working hours, 8 am to 5 pm, to disrupt residents as little as possible.

Another obstacle our team was faced with was the actual location of the project site. The Vista St. Clair is located on a steep hill in downtown Portland. This hill impacted the location of where loading and unloading of materials from trucks could be done. Heavy and fragile materials could only be moved on one street, the flattest around the building. This created the additional challenge of maneuvering materials around the site, ensuring the safety of those around the outside of the building, and establishing a traffic safety program on this street. The project team used the freight elevator to move team members and window sills that were being placed back within units. The old and new windows that were being installed were transported through the scaffolding to our lifts on the exterior of the building.

When it came time to replace the windows within each individual unit, there was a small gap of time between removing the old windows and installing the new windows. A plywood barricade was installed in the interim. To maintain a level of comfort, our team fabricated 4’ x 4’ windows out of plexiglass so that residents would still have some natural light in their units. Some work took place during the summer months, without the new windows being installed, units risked overheating. To mitigate this obstacle, the project team installed owner-furnished Air Conditioning units directly into the plywood barricades to keep residents comfortable in the hot months.

An additional challenge our project team faced early in the project schedule was the need for an infallible phasing plan. The R&H project team was able to come up with a phasing plan that divided the building envelope into three different phases. Each phase tackled one and a half sides of the building exterior, the phasing plan for this project was created in a way that would allow our teams to use material lifts on the flattest areas of the surrounding streets. The phasing plan was essential to completing this project within the set schedule and was also essential when working around residents and keeping the building owner informed about the location of where construction was taking place. In relation to the phasing plan, a crew chase was also established by the project team and employed throughout all three phases of the construction schedule. The crew chase ran so seamlessly that the crew was setting up scaffolding for the next phase of work while the previous phase was wrapping up. This approach helped to guarantee that there was absolutely no time wasted in between phases and ensured a seamless transition of subcontractor scopes.

Budget and Schedule

The overall project was delivered an impressive four weeks ahead of schedule. The schedule phasing and crew chase employed by the project team allowed the team to finish early in the first phase, leading to a domino effect until project completion. Finishing this project early was key, resident’s lives were impacted less, the owner saved money, and the exterior upgrade was enjoyed sooner. Our project team also finished this project not only on budget, but were able to return $400,000 to the owner.

This savings was realized in two ways; first, Commerce Properties was offering residents a discount in their rent any time scaffolding was in front of their windows. Our project team finished phases ahead of schedule, so the owner was able to save on these anticipated rental discounts. Second, as the project progressed, our project team became increasingly efficient, thus requiring fewer man hours to finish the project and save in the overall general conditions duration.

All Photos Credit: Sally Painter