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Report: Decking Questioned at NOLA Hard Rock

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

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Records recently obtained by WWL-TV show that a materials supplier for the NOLA Hard Rock project tried to warn those closer to the design that it needed more steel supports on the upper floors of the building.

Around 9 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, part of the Hard Rock Hotel building gave way, resulting in a partial collapse of the structure, with more than 30 injuries and three worker fatalities. Project officials have reported that initial damages were caused by the collapse of floors six through eight, which resulted in additional damage spread throughout a large portion of the building.

The Findings

WWL-TV obtained records of the project—including construction plans, emails, meeting minutes and material specifications—and consulted with Michael Bradbury, a California-based structural engineer who is not a part of the Hard Rock litigation, on the findings.

While many factors no doubt contributed to the structure’s collapse, Bradbury points to the decisions made around the metal decking.

Infrogmation, CC-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Records recently obtained by WWL-TV show that a materials supplier for the NOLA Hard Rock project tried to warn those closer to the design that it needed more steel supports on the upper floors of the building.

A change was reportedly made in January 2019, when New Millennium Building systems, a supplier of metal decking and other construction materials, sent the steel contractor for the project a quote for 18-gauge metal decking, which was appropriate as the plans for the structure included steel beams spaced more than 26 feet apart.

However, the heavier decking cost more money, therefore New Millennium project manager Trent Fowler added in an email that the team could switch to the cheaper, lighter, 22-gauge decking “if you are adding supports.”

William Bridges, from steel subcontractor Hub Steel, responded saying the request for the heavier gauge was a mistake. The lighter gauge was used without adding any supports.

Meanwhile, records show that the plans approved by the city the year before specified the heavier decking.

Further notes about the edges of the decking and plumb columns are also recorded in the documents, which Bradbury says should’ve both been warning signs for engineers.

Ultimately, though, the finger points back to the lack of inspections. Moreover, Bradbury questioned why city reviewers didn’t question the plans for the beams and columns for the upper floors.

Former New Orleans Safety and Permits Director Jared Munster, who left his post in 2018, said that the city never really double-checked the work of private engineers.

“During that planning review process, it is certainly part of that review to look at structural issues,” Munster said. “But it's not traditionally been the city's role to second guess the engineer.”

Hard Rock, NOLA Inspection History

In February 2020, WWLT reported that inspectors Julie Tweeter and Eric Treadaway were suspended for 30 days without pay for submitting reports that said they had inspected several projects (including the Hard Rock) despite GPS data that failed to locate them at the premises during the time the reports claimed.

Hammer also noted that he had a recording of a meeting among inspectors and building officials that allegedly captured field inspectors being chastised for filing false reports.

One of the alleged falsified reports was from Tweeter, in which she “approved” the work prior to crews pouring concrete on the top floors.

In addition to the falsifications, the Advocate reported that several inspectors that were approving work were not properly licensed. Tweeter, for example, had allegedly inspected the Hard Rock at least four times before she obtained her commercial building inspector’s license.

A month later, it was reported that Treadaway left his position with the city, ending any disciplinary investigation against him.

WWL-TV has since raised multiple questions about the oversight of private city inspectors in its “Hidden Dangers” investigative series.

WWL says it has reviewed 15 months of NOLA inspection data, and found that “thousands of third-party inspections, IECI and other private companies had never submitted a single failed inspection.” Private third-party inspectors perform the majority of inspections on behalf of local governments surrounding the city.

The station has also looked at NOLA’s city vehicle tracking data to show the work of the city’s in-house inspectors, who were under Chan’s direction until 2019. This data showed that inspectors failed to show up at more than one-third of the inspections they claimed to have performed.

Larry Chan, an IECI inspector who was in charge of City Hall's inspectors, was suspended from the city department on Sept. 16, 2019, because he had reportedly been implicated in an ongoing criminal investigation of the permitting office. Earlier that same day, Chan held a meeting with city inspectors warning them that they were being tracked. Soon after that, Chan retired from the city.

About a month later, the NOLA Hard Rock Hotel project collapsed.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Hotels; NA; North America; Safety; Structural steel

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