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RE: Parking Garage Collapse in Pennsylvania Sept 4

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This is all I got at


Posted on Thu, Sep. 05, 2002

Investigators focus on pavement in seeking cause of parking deck collapse

By Mike Joseph

STATE COLLEGE -- Investigators on Wednesday were trying to determine whether
excessive weight from a new layer of pavement contributed to the collapse of
a parking deck next to a 91-unit condominium building on South Atherton

The possibility that the second-floor deck pavement grew too heavy over the
years for the support structure of steel columns and beams underneath raised
questions about why the building code treats such stress-altering work as
maintenance and does not require a permit, inspections or even a notice to
public building code enforcers.

Should permits be required for such paving?

"It would be hard to say no after seeing something like this -- I would like
to see something written in there," Centre Region Council of Governments
code enforcement director Gregory Mussi said at the collapse site, 710 S.
Atherton St.

The Pepper Mill Condominium parking deck -- roughly 125 feet long and 90
feet wide -- was paved with asphalt blacktop in the spring, the latest layer
of pavement over the course of the building's career of more than three

Mussi, who is investigating the collapse, said the pavement weight "is
definitely a factor that's being considered." He said there could be other
causes as well, but he added, without specifying, that investigators are "99
percent sure what caused it."

The collapse at about 6 p.m. Tuesday sent 15 vehicles on the second floor
crashing down onto a similar number of vehicles on the floor below. No one
was injured, but it took overnight digging by emergency rescue crews from as
far away as Harrisburg to determine that no one had been trapped.

"Fortunately, there was nobody in there," Mussi said Wednesday.

The second-floor deck was paved with asphalt blacktop in May by TEO
Enterprises of State College, Pepper Mill Condominium manager Elizabeth
Brooks said.

Brooks said Wednesday that when she arranged the paving in May she did not
consider the impact of the additional weight. She said she was shocked by
the collapse and had parked under the deck on Tuesday herself.

"I've parked there every day for 16 years," Brooks said. "We had no idea."

TEO owner Thomas O'Connor said the asphalt probably added 40 to 45 tons of
weight to the deck. But he said he expects structural engineering issues to
be resolved before he starts the job.

O'Connor said the additional weight "never crossed my mind" when he did the
Pepper Mill work in May. "I figure they probably have that taken care of --
I'm just a paving contractor. We pave decks all the time."

Mussi said his review of the damage Wednesday indicated that, over the
years, the original layer of planking on the deck was covered by a heavy
layer of concrete, which was covered by a light layer of smoothing concrete,
which later was covered by another heavy layer of concrete.

None of these layers was removed when the asphalt blacktop was laid on top
of them this year, Mussi said.

"If a structural engineer was involved in that, they probably would have had
them remove a layer," he said.

Mussi said his investigation traced an early stage of Tuesday's collapse to
one of the columns near the middle of the structure that had been giving
support to one of the lengthy beams underlying the second floor.

"Once one of the columns collapsed, the other columns were trying to pick up
the load, and they were not designed for that," Mussi said.

Mussi said the Building Officials & Code Administration national building
code, or BOCA, considers such paving a type of maintenance and thus does not
require permitting or inspections for it, even though in this case the
paving appears to have changed the load stresses on the structure.

By contrast, he said, work to shore up a column of the parking deck
structure would have required a permit and inspections by his COG office.

The seven-story Pepper Mill Condominium building, the parking areas and the
rest of the property are owned by the condominium owners, said State College
attorney Ronald M. Friedman, who represents the homeowners association.

Many of the owners in turn lease the condos to Penn State or South Hills
Business School students, and legal claims over vehicle damage will now head
to the desks of various insurance carriers.

Adjusters were inspecting the damage Wednesday.

"Usually these things are resolved by the insurance companies fighting it
out," Friedman said.

Mark Whitfield, State College public works director, said it was his
understanding that the remains of the fallen parking garage would be treated
like any other building demolition.

"Right now, it's all up to the private property owner," he said. "I'm sure
their insurance company will want to come in and assess the damage. But the
cleanup is theirs to bear."

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