Library Lot Underground Parking Garage Retaining Wall Collapses: DDA Contractor Has History of Wall Collapses on Projects

A2PNotes: This is filed under “Scoops & Scores” because you read it here first.

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and Christman Construction released a joint statement today concerning the retaining wall collapse that happened over the weekend at the site of the Fifth Avenue underground garage site. The statement, titled, “Christman response to incidences the week of 3/21/2011,” attempts to convince those “who are following” the construction project that all is well after the most recent incident in which a 30-foot sinkhole opened up when a retaining wall partially collapsed. The sinkhole is located near the Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden restaurants, both of which had to be evacuated as a result of the incident and remained closed (tip o’ the keyboard the Ed Vielmetti).

In the statement released today by DDA officials, there is no explanation of why the wall collapsed. Christman officials were quoted as saying, “The occurrences this past week were the result of two unrelated and localized issues that had the unfortunate coincidence of happening days apart.”

This lack of concrete information is eerily similar to the explanation Christman gave to Grand Traverse County officials when the wall of their new septage plant build by Christman Construction collapsed. In fact, two weeks after that collapse, Christman could offer no explanation to officials on the Grand Traverse County Board of Public Works. As a result, officials there hired a forensic engineering firm to determine the cause of the collapse, and the report was a bombshell: none of the walls of the finished building had been properly constructed.

Local news coverage of the retaining wall collapse at Christman’s Ann Arbor Library Lot project site neglected to include the fact that The Christman Company is currently attempting to settle a dispute with officials in Grand Traverse County over the 2005 wall collapse related to alleged engineering and construction flaws. On March 11, 2011 a $750,000 settlement had been proposed by Christman, et. al., and came nine days after “the county’s Board of Public Works on Monday told BPW attorney Scott Howard to file suit against former county attorney and project manager Michael Houlihan; an LLC formed between engineering firm Gourdie-Fraser and construction firm The Christman Company; and ‘any other necessary parties for claims related to the design, construction and operation’ of the facility,” according to a March 1, 2011 piece published in the Traverse City Record Eagle.

A wall collapsed at a new septage facility built by Christman just one month after it opened, in June 2005. On October 19, 2005 NTH Consultants, Grand Traverse County’s independent engineering firm hired to determine the cause of the collapse, concluded that over 400 metal reinforcement pieces were missing from the construction, including hooks intended to hold the roof of the tank to the walls increasing the strength of the tanks. In July 2005 it was estimated it would take $2.1 million and six months to repair the damage. Christman officials blamed a subcontractor for the collapse. In November 2005 NTH presented its final report to the Board of Public Works. That report indentified construction errors and omissions. The NTH report concluded none of the walls of the three tank buildings was properly constructed. Independent contractor NTH concluded much of the construction was incomplete or defective.

In addition to the Christman company and the design firm, local Grand Traverse officials decided to hold liable the project manager who oversaw the planning and construction of Grand Traverse County’s troubled septage treatment plant. In the case of the Ann Arbor underground parking garage, that would be Adrian Iraola. Iraola worked  as a project manager for the Downtown Development Authority, and the City of Ann Arbor for 25 years. He “retired” in 2005 and went to work at Washtenaw Engineering. When the DDA began the underground parking garage project, Iraola launched his own company, Park Avenue Construction Consultants. It was Iraola’s company that was employed to oversee the Fifth Avenue parking garage project, and Iraola is a senior project manager in charge of the underground parking garage project.

In the statement released by the DDA this morning, Christman officials claim, “There have been repeated visual assessments of the perimeter of the site and there is no indication of any structural concerns. All structural retention elements remain in good shape, and all the tiebacks are holding.”

In Grand Traverse County, the Christman Company originally investigated the cause of the wall collapse at the septage plant, and did not conclude there was any defective construction. In fact, the company couldn’t give any reason for the wall collapse. It took an independent contractor to come in and determine that “400 metal reinforcement pieces were missing from the construction.”

On March 1, 2011, AnnArbor.com reported that employees of a “subcontractor doing the concrete work,” for Christman were injured while installing a metal rebar wall used to reinforce concrete. Two workers were hospitalized when that rebar wall collapsed and both fell 30 feet. The cause of that wall collapse? It’s “under investigation.”

The last sentence of the March 28, 2011 DDA/Christman press release is the most chilling, in light of Christman’s record of “self-evaluation” in the Grand Traverse County wall collapse: “Christman’s engineers at SME do not believe that there are any areas of immediate concern.” In other words, the DDA and Christman officials have concluded that there is no reason to believe the spate of collapses at the site are related.

As in Grand Traverse County, perhaps an independent contractor should be brought in to determine the cause of both the March 1 and March 21st collapses before the garage is finished, because a wall collapse after the multi-level underground garage is completed would be catastrophic.

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7 Comments for “Library Lot Underground Parking Garage Retaining Wall Collapses: DDA Contractor Has History of Wall Collapses on Projects”

  1. @lulugee You forgot the supporting performance of DDA staffer Susan Pollay and the pledge that the structure would be paid for completely with parking dollars (a pledge which the financials simply couldn’t be made to bear out.) This underground parking garage wasn’t built for 6 businessmen/women and octogenarians from Chelsea who needed “more convenient” parking. It was built for the Valiant Group to build something on top of.

    Hieftje’s recent claim that he has been “against” the Valiant proposal for a long time is going to earn him a Weekly Whopper. His own emails, comments to the press and an email hanging him out to dry by Sabra Briere prove otherwise.

    He was shopping around the Valiant proposal to Council members (Sandi Smith and Briere) in 2009. Methinks the Lady doth protest too much.

  2. The players in this comedie have expended a lot of energy managing public opinion.

    Recalling the council meeting where the vote to approve the Abyss on Fifth was orchestrated, many memorable performances come to mind: Who among the gathered throng did not reach for a hankie upon hearing the travail heaped upon the merchant class by the paucity of parking for their customers? And whose heart was not gladdened to hear the remedy would cost the rest of us but $50million dollars?

    I myself sat mute in the audience, not for lack of skepticism, but because I was awe struck by the spectacle I was witnessing.

    So on and on it went. The contractor, predestined by the gods, it would seem, had but to fill in the blanks to begin digging and then it only made sense that the heavens above would elect the same for the concrete. And the same company who designed the retention walls would naturally be the one to inspect the walls for any design flaws. And the issuance of citations from the city inspectors would be out of the question because the company named Christman is of good repute…….

    The long suffering spectators of this wretched comedie need to become players and knock this cancred troupe off the stage.

  3. ChuckL, I believe what you are referring to was the bid for the concrete work. Christman was not the lowest bidder, and there is no clause in the DDA’s contract with the company that forbids it from subcontracting out work to itself. So that’s what Christman did with the concrete work. Then, when some people raised a stink, Christman kicked back $1 million to the DDA. It wasn’t called a kick back of course but one would have a difficult time not viewing the return of the money to the DDA in light of the concrete bid fiasco as a kickback.

    This whole project smells to high heaven. That garage was built just to build something else atop it, I am beginning to understand. There are people currently in office who knew exactly what they wanted built atop the garage and who was going to build it (hotel/conference center and Valiant).

    This is public land, mind you, and the public has really never had a say. I’m very please that a group of citizens has formed to challenge the foregone conclusion that downtown should have a conference center.

  4. You have an error of fact in your story; Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar did reopen after the event and were open by Friday.


  5. A2P,

    What was the deal about a year ago where the principle contractor decided to not outsource the cement contract (presumably due to the principle wanting to get a bigger slice of the revenue pie or they did not want anyone else to see what they were really doing)? New buildings are never fun to deal with; watch Holms on Homes if you just can’t get enough of a jaundiced view of building contractors! Let’s see how His Honer deals with this little tidbit.

  6. This is precious! They chose a company that has a problem with collapsing walls to build an underground parking garage. Well, count on me never going in either the garage or whatever gets built on top of it, if anything. I’m sure Christman did a thorough investigation of the collapse of the retaining wall and has assured themselves that they did everything correctly and that there’s really nothing to worry about. If the DDA doesn’t get an independent contractor in there and something does go wrong, it entirely possible that there would be a messy lawsuit for Christman to contend with in Ann Arbor as well.

    Good for the elected officials in Grand Traverse County!

  7. You’ve done it again. You connected dots that have been there the whole time that needed to be connected, should have been connected. So the DDA hired a contractor who was in the middle of a mess up north over a wall collapse. Now that the same thing has happened here, the DDA issues a statement to the effect that there’s nothing to worry about? Does anyone find this frightening in light of the fact that they want to build a hotel on top of that garage?

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