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Epic Fail: $195K Paint Job Washes Out

Friday, January 24, 2014

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A Toronto university official is apologizing profusely for rushing a $195,000 street painting job that was designed to “make an exciting splash”—but ended up failing fast.

The coating work on Gould and Victoria Streets at Ryerson University "started to peel immediately" after the job was finished in the fall. Most of the rest went down the drain with December's snow and ice.

The mess prompted a lengthy apology and explanation in "I'm Sorry," a blog post Jan. 6 by Julia Hanigsberg, the university's vice president of administration and finance since October 2010.

Gould St. resurfacing Gould St. Paint Failure
Mark Binch for Ryerson University (left); Natalia Balcerzak / The Eyeopener

Goodbye, yellow brick road: The coating project, meant to show "blue and gold pride," was completed in the fall (left). But it began to peel and fade as soon as the project was completed. By December (right), it was mostly gone.

But the 38,950-student university community is neither forgiving nor forgetting.

First Mistake: Rush Application

Hanigsberg said her team had been "inspired by the great work done in New York’s Times Square" and wanted to freshen up the urban campus for the Week of Welcome in September, when students arrived.

The design for the pedestrian-only roads included "blue river-like arrows that pointed out various campus landmarks," according to The Toronto Star. University president Sheldon Levy called the design "an homage to Taddle Creek, a little waterway that once gurgled through downtown," the newspaper said.

However, Hanigsberg later explained, "We soon realized we couldn’t complete the design we wanted in time, so we decided to do a phase 1 that would be bright and express our blue and gold pride.

"We did the work in a rush. We put speed ahead of quality of application. That was our first mistake."

Julia Hanigsberg
Ryerson University

University VP Julia Hanigsberg said it was "my mistake" to rush the paint job. Still, some members of the university community are calling on her to resign.

The first phase cost $25,000, Levy told The Star.

Second Mistake: Rush Testing

When it came time for phase 2, Hanigsberg wrote, her team worked with a designer "on a design that was dynamic and incorporated some needed wayfinding."

Meanwhile, she added, the new paint from phase 1 was tested for adhesion (she did not say how or by whom) and passed.

Hindsight showed, however, that the adhesion testing "was not sufficiently extensive," she wrote.

"Testing failed to reveal that the new durable epoxy paint was going to peel off our phase 1 paint.

"Again, we were rushing because the weather was getting colder, and we had a narrow range of temperature when the epoxy could be applied. I required my team complete the work before the temperature dropped. That was my mistake."

The second phase cost $170,000, officials said.

Fail Fast

When the project was completed, Hanigsberg said, the final effect was short lived: "The paint started to peel immediately."

Failed Gould St. paint job
Natalia Balcerzak / The Eyeopener

As soon as the epoxy layer was installed, it peeled away from the temporary layer, officials said. The project cost nearly $200,000.

Efforts to repair the project "were ineffective and didn’t live up to the quality we wanted and the community deserves," she wrote.

Although the university is "working on a solution" and has hired a new project manager "to make sure quality control is achieved from start to finish," nothing will happen on the project until the spring, Hanigsberg said.

Moreover, despite her apology, Hanigsberg made it clear that she expected the project's contractors (which were not immediately identified) to make good on the debacle.

"We will not be spending any additional university funds," she wrote. "We have confidence that our designer, painting contractor and team will stand by their commitment to achieve an excellent quality result."

'Slap in the Face'

Students and alumni have been railing against not only the botched work, but the project itself.

Gould St. before
Mark Bincher for Ryerson University

The coating failure aside, many criticized the original decision to paint the pedestrian area. This is Gould Street before the project began.

"How much did this cost again?" Proud Alumni commented on Hanigsberg's blog. "I guess you can just raise tuition to compensate. For your next project why not take a page from Willy Wonka and turn Gould Street into a giant chocolate river! That would be sweet! Get it?!?"

The alum added: "Ps. Stop calling me for donations if this is how the money is going to be spent."

Another university member called the project "a slap in the face" to families struggling to pay tuition.

"During the first week when the paint was fresh I didn’t hear one person say 'oh look how beautiful this is', instead there was just anger and frustration at how aesthetically displeasing the paint job was," the commenter wrote. "And once we knew the cost of the paint job we were floored[.]"

(University spokesman Michael Forbes told the National Post that the university did "not directly" use tuition funds for the project.)

Another post detailed deteriorating campus housing and classroom facilities and funding cutbacks for sports and academic programs, concluding:

"[T]ake a look at the Ivy league schools in the US and figure out how they[']re spending their money[.]

"I don[']t think Harvard or Yale have ever spent $200,000 to paint roads."


Tagged categories: Coating failure; Delamination; Epoxy; Fading; Painting Contractors; Peeling; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Schools; Weathering

Comment from Kevin Oyloe, (1/24/2014, 9:30 AM)

Looks to me that they thought they could use traffic making paint as phase I, then to coast over that with epoxy? No shot blasting for surface prep either. No consideration for vapor transmission of the concrete. Low bidder..

Comment from peter gibson, (1/24/2014, 12:09 PM)

Yes...serves them right!

Comment from Fred Salome, (1/26/2014, 7:33 PM)

Isn’t it strange how many people simply don’t understand the complexity of coating systems, make uninformed (and often cost-driven) decisions and then want to blame the contractor and supplier when things don’t end up well?

Comment from William Cornelius, (1/27/2014, 9:41 AM)

Fred Salome, how right you are.

Comment from Karen Fischer, (1/27/2014, 2:51 PM)

No one is mentioning WHERE to failed paint ended up. If this were the states, the EPA would have everyone by the neck.

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