- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

Convention center officials blame strong gusts for collapsing a portion of its new $750 million-dollar unfinished structure Tuesday night, but construction contractors say privately that improperly bolted-down steel girders were vulnerable to 25 mph winds.
"All we know is that it fell down," said Tony Robinson, spokesman for the Convention Center. "We have a team trying to determine exactly what happened."
Mr. Robinson said the site will remain closed to most workers until investigators determine the cause of the accident, which could take weeks.
But construction workers and building managers attributed the accident, which left no one injured, only partly to wind. They say the fasteners that held the large steel pieces of the roof together were improperly fastened.
"Its definitely much more windy up there," said one foreman for a subcontractor who asked not to be identified. "But the crews didnt finish up the bolting last night. They were going to finish up . So when the wind pushed one piece to break off, that brought the rest down with it because they were connected. This could have happened at any time."
Although Mr. Robinson said he expects the project to remain within budget and on schedule, contractors predicted yesterday that the accident could add a months delay and millions to the cost of the project.
"All that steel, about 300,000 pounds to 400,000 pounds, has to be scrapped," said another employee outside the site yesterday. "It has been compromised and twisted and weakened. They are going to have to rebuild that portion once they have determined how to clean up this mess."
Louise Pulizzi, spokeswoman for Clark/Smoot, which supervises the construction, said insurance should cover the cost of the scrapped material, and she expects the project to remain on schedule.
"Right now, we dont anticipate any significant delays," she said. "There may be a minor delay, but we will be able to resume construction of the south building . Only 2 percent of the roof structure came down."
The spokeswoman also said crews were in the middle of a three-step process: Steel trusses are set in place by cranes while iron workers make temporary connections with fasteners; detailing crews follow to finalize the connections; independent inspectors follow to ensure proper construction.
"We still had several more days of work to complete making connections final," she said.
Construction halted yesterday as inspection teams stepped gingerly around the deserted construction site that spans eight square blocks in search of the cause of the collapse. Neighborhood residents stood outside, craning their necks to get a better look at the tangled steel jungle inside the fenced-off area.
Gwen Kennedy, whose apartment building backs up to the convention center site and whose bedroom window is less than 50 feet from the accident, said she was watching TV shortly before midnight Tuesday when she heard a "boom that changed to rolling thunder."
"I was too scared to get up and look," she recalled. "I just held my daughters hand until the phone started ringing. I thought the building was collapsing."
Mrs. Kennedy said she was just glad "the men werent there" and attributed the collapse to cost overruns and delays that put pressure on workers to finish quickly with possible shortcuts.
"They are millions and months behind," she said. "As a result, they are working harder, not smarter."
Peggy Hall witnessed the collapse from her apartment at Ninth and M streets.
"It sounded like an explosion, then the pieces started falling down," she said. "If this had happened in the daytime, hundreds of people could have died."
Mr. Robinson denied that any shortcuts were being taken and said, "We are confident there is no impact on the publics safety."
The 2.3-million-square-foot state-of-the-art convention center is to be the cornerstone of development in the area near Mount Vernon Square, and is expected to pump $1.5 billion into the citys economy annually. The building is expected to open in March 2003. The original cost, projected at $650 million, already has jumped to more than $750 million, officials said. More than $800 million in bond revenue and other funds are being used to pay for the citys largest public project.

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