UC Davis’ $7 million leak

Here’s what’s going on with the Mondavi Center

The Mondavi Center’s south wall, the one covered in giant, gleaming plastic wrap, has been an ongoing source of dampness and frustration for UC Davis—to the tune of a $7 million settlement.

The Mondavi Center’s south wall, the one covered in giant, gleaming plastic wrap, has been an ongoing source of dampness and frustration for UC Davis—to the tune of a $7 million settlement.


The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts is not just pretty to look at. It is by many accounts a marvel of acoustical engineering. The $53 million building—on the south end of the UC Davis campus—features a “box within a box” design that offers total sound isolation, ensuring the music inside the performance hall will be warm and rich, while keeping unwanted noise and vibrations out.

If only they’d figured out a way to keep out the rainwater.

The Mondavi opened in 2002, and “immediately thereafter, there were leaks,” says Clayton Halliday, the campus architect for UC Davis.

Talking to Halliday, it sounds like a certain amount of leakage was inevitable. After all, the massive center sports lots of skylights and different roof levels. But one by one, the university worked through the leak problems as they presented themselves.

But not the big one. Not the $7 million leak.

The Mondavi’s south wall has been an ongoing source of dampness and frustration. That’s the wall you see when you’re driving by on Interstate 80, the one that today is entirely covered in a giant gleaming white plastic wrap.

“The stone itself is not waterproof” Halliday explains.

Makes sense. The tiles are about three-quarters-of-an-inch thick and made of sandstone. Fancy sandstone, imported all the way from India, but porous like any other sandstone. Underneath the sandstone tile is mortar, then a layer of waterproof membrane, painted on to the wall before the tile was applied.

And that’s where the problem is, says Halliday. “That waterproof membrane turned out not to be the correct thickness. It was an installation issue.”

Because the membrane wasn’t thick enough, it developed a lot of little leaks.

Unfortunately, replacing the membrane means removing the tiles—all 50,000 of them covering the south wall.

And the tiles can’t be reused, because they’re bonded so strongly to the adhesive layer. The only way to remove them is to break them into little pieces.

“Basically, they have to build a new wall, from the studs out,” Halliday said.

Replacing 50,000 fancy sandstone tiles from India isn’t cheap, but Halliday and others say it’s the labor, not so much the material, that is driving the costs.

At first, UC Davis would not disclose just what those repair costs were, or who was footing the bill.

“It’s part of the legal settlement, and it’s confidential,” Halliday told SN&R. “It’s an amicable settlement, and the contractor stepped up to do the right thing.”

SN&R objected to the secrecy, arguing that the public had a right to know who was responsible for the repairs and how much public money, if any, was being spent.

And ultimately, UC Davis did agree to honor SN&R’s public-records request, releasing the 30-plus page settlement agreement—negotiated between the university and the lead construction contractor, St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Companies, along with more than a dozen subcontractors and insurance companies.

Under the terms of the settlement, McCarthy has agreed to kick in $2.7 million toward the repairs. The project architect, Boora Architects, is putting up another $800,000. Subcontractor Lawson Mechanical Contractors were also on the hook for $1 million. Other subcontractors agreed to pay smaller amounts, and it appears in the settlement that UC Davis is avoiding any additional cost to fix the leaks.

All in all, the repairs add up to about $7 million. For comparison, the Mondavi family, for whom the performing arts center is named, gave $10 million toward the initial construction.

Of the $7 million total repair bill, almost $5 million is going to pay for the actual repairs. About $1.2 million is going to reimburse the university for its attorney fees. And another $1 million is going to pay McCarthy’s own legal bills. A very lucrative leak for the lawyers.

McCarthy’s share of the repairs will come mostly from the company’s insurance policy, says Michael Lipton, vice president of operations for company’s northern Pacific division.

When asked whose fault the leaks were, Lipton said it’s complicated. “It’s a cumulation of construction issues, design issues and all the multiple parties involved.”

He added that the whole situation could have been much more costly for everyone if it had come to lawsuits.

“It’s really kind of a success story,” Lipton said. “It probably would have cost a lot more if we weren’t able to resolve it.”

He also said the depressed construction market has helped keep down the cost of the repairs.

And, though expensive, the settlement means that McCarthy will likely continue to do work for the University of California.

Since the construction of the Mondavi Center, McCarthy also built the UC Davis Campus Activities and Recreation Center and the Student Health and Wellness Center. The company is finishing work on the $20 million Segundo Services Center—also on campus—which will house dining halls, laundry and other services.

Lipton said he “absolutely” expects McCarthy to do future projects with UC Davis.