July 20, 2006 in City

Some RPS garage barriers inferior

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Half of the barriers on the first seven floors of the River Park Square Parking garage – including one that collapsed earlier this year when hit by a car – do not meet current concrete standards set in the building code, according to an engineering report released Wednesday by the city of Spokane.

But garage officials said Tuesday night that those ductility – or flexibility – standards from the American Concrete Institute were not part of the building code when those floors were built in 1974.

In addition, the report says six other barriers do not meet the building codes that were in place when constructed in 1999.

In all, there are 268 barriers in the 10-floor garage. The report says that most of the barriers are in “good condition.”

“The panels did not appear to be suffering from lack of maintenance or significant deterioration or corrosion,” it reads.

The analysis was completed by an engineering firm hired by the garage after Pullman resident Jo Ellen Savage died April 8 when her Subaru fell from the structure’s fifth level after hitting a barrier, or spandrel. That barrier gave way.

Jennifer West, River Park Square spokeswoman, said nothing in the report indicates the garage is unsafe. But an attorney representing Savage’s family harshly criticized that contention.

“I’m not concerned about code compliance or not code compliance. What they should be trying to do is provide users of the garage safety,” said family attorney Robert Rembert. “I sure hope members of the public pick the right spandrel to park in front of.”

River Park Square and the garage are owned by the Cowles Company, which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Company officials said the garage will be brought up to code or beyond.

“It’s always been our intent to ensure that the garage is safe,” said Cowles Company Chairwoman Betsy Cowles. “What the issue right now is, ‘Does the garage meet the standard, and how can we get (the garage) to exceed that.’ ”

West said mall officials will block parking stalls in front of six panels that were found in the report to not meet building codes. Those areas will be blocked before the mall opens today, she said.

When built in 1999, those six panels were required to withstand 6,000 pounds of force.

The city will give the study to an independent engineer, hired by the building department, for review, said city building director Joe Wizner.

“If something doesn’t meet code, I imagine we’d say at least that part of the garage would be out of service,” said Wizner, who hadn’t seen the report. He said the department likely will make a decision within the next couple of weeks.

West said most improvements will be done voluntarily because most of the garage is grandfathered in and doesn’t have to meet later regulations.

The report was given to the city Wednesday morning and obtained later in the day by The Spokesman-Review through a records request to the city.

Cowles said Richard Dethlefs, the engineer who conducted the study, has been instructed not to talk to the press.

“We don’t want to taint the city or the city’s experts should they want to look at his report in a different sort of way,” Cowles said.

Ductility relates to the flexibility of an object. The more ductile a structure; the more it can bend or stretch.

The report says ductility problems in the concrete spandrels are the result of misplaced rebar in the barriers.

“The actual design is not the issue,” Cowles said. “It’s the way the spandrels were manufactured.”

There were earlier indications that the garage barriers were not as strong as intended, The Spokesman-Review has previously reported.

In 1993, engineer Richard Atwood warned River Park Square officials of problems in the walls. He recommended the garage erect cables to prevent cars from hitting barriers or that the owners conduct more extensive tests.

Neither action was taken, though West said owners performed other tests not mentioned by Atwood and made other improvements.


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