Engineer Calls Building 'Unsafe,' Craig Says Employees were not in Danger
The county executive believes the damages to the Harford County government building could cost more than $1 million to repair.
Harford County Executive David Craig has told Bel Air Patch that the 72 employees who worked in the government building at 212 South Bond St. that was closed Monday for structural problems were never in danger.
But, Craig said engineers have not fully explained to him the specific problems at the building. He said repairing the structural problems that were first detected in October could cost more than $1 million.
"Our problem was that we could not get either of the structural engineers to tell us directly how much of a threat it was, nor would either of them sign off and say the building is safe to be occupied," Craig said in an interview with Patch. "They've narrowed it down to what they feel are some construction issues that took place."
The 25-year-old building, which houses the County Council, Department of Public Works, the Cultural Arts Board and other agencies, was built with a second level that was originally intended to be used as a roof, not as a separate floor.
"[The engineer] gave us a report on [Dec. 30] basically saying he thought there was some extreme problems with the building," Craig said. "It was in a dangerous zone. Kind of like a yellow amber kind of alert."
The county executive was inside the building Monday morning and said he does not believe employees were ever in harm's way.
"I don't think they were [in danger]," he said. "You could see that there were some beginnings of problems. … We're trying to be proactive instead of waiting for something catastrophic to happen."
The first structural review of the building was conducted by McCon Engineering of Kingsville in November and prompted officials to request a second evaluation. Howard Lawrence Schriefer, PE, of Havre de Grace is formulating the second structural engineering report, which Craig said has yet to be completed. The initial findings of the second report from Howard Lawrence Schriefer, however, which were submitted Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m., prompted Monday's closure.
In the preliminary evaluation it stated that "floor deflections are the result of strain-related creep in the welded connections of the floor trusses.
"The creep is apparently causing such progressive dislocations which can result in failure with little warning," the report reads. "Such a failure can initiate as cascading truss bending failure with downward rupture and folding of the floor slab, and collapse onto the floor slab beneath, which if unsupported by ground would also collapse until halted by the ground. I consider the structural stability of the building to be unsafe for occupancy."
Craig said the building inspections were prompted by employees who "expressed concern about things they saw."
If the final edition of the second report does not agree with McCon's, the county executive will seek a third opinion.
Employees who work in the building were briefed in an 8:30 a.m. meeting Monday, where they were told to prepare to gather their belongings and vacate 212 South Bond St.
County Council members will work from 18 Office Street, across from the Harford County District Court. Tuesday's council meeting will be held at the Board of Education building at 102 South Hickory Ave.
"What we will say to people is that we are not anticipating a quick move back into [212 South Bond St.]," Craig said. "We may actually have to relocate some of the people that we've relocated this week to more permanent places because this could take anywhere from four to six months."
The county executive said the damages could cost more than $1 million.
"If it's a matter of repairs, we'll have to look at the companies that can repair it," he said. "We'd almost have to strip the building so we're going to have to look at it economically, too."
Craig acknowledged that this also changes the outlook for plans to build a completely new structure.
"We've talked about new buildings in the past and the need for new buildings because we do rent so much space," he said. "But this building was not one of the problems that we foresaw as being one of the reasons why we may need to do that so it sort of changed the dynamics of the whole study."
Other relocations from the South Bond Street building include the Office of the Director, which will be on the third floor of the building at 220 South Main St. Bonding and Permits will be in the second floor of the same building.
Traffic Engineering has been moved to the Department of Public Works offices at 1807 North Fountain Green Rd. in Hickory. The Division of Water and Sewer has been moved to the Harford County Emergency Operations Center at 2220 Ady Rd. in Forest Hill.
"We understand the necessity in taking these steps, as it was felt that there was no other alternative," Council President Billy Boniface said in a statement. "The safety of our employees and the public is our number one priority. I hope that we can make these necessary relocations with as little disruption as possible and I ask that the public be understanding during this transition."
Craig anticipates minimal setbacks in production this week, but by Monday he expects relocated employees will be acclimated to their new offices.
"Phone numbers will remain the same. The [information technology] issues are the same," Craig said. "IT has been working very dramatically over the last three days to make sure that when these people move to a location that they'll be able to hook up online and actually do their work."
A sign was posted on the inside of the front of the building early Monday morning that read, "This building temporarily closed."
Craig said there has been no order to condemn the structure. He added that updates, including reports from the engineers, will be posted online.