Study Finds Some Safety Barriers Don’t Meet Codes

July 24, 2006

An analysis of concrete safety barriers inside a downtown Washington parking garage found that some do not meet current building codes, including the one that collapsed last spring and allowed a Pullman woman’s car to plunge five stories.

The city will give the study — paid for by the River Park Square garage owners — to an independent engineer for review, city building director Joe Wizner said.

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

The analysis was sought after the April 8 death of Jo Ellen Savage, whose car broke through one of the barriers and fell from the structure’s fifth level.

The report delivered to the city Wednesday found that half of the barriers on the first seven floors of the garage do not meet current building-code standards for concrete.

Garage officials said when those floors were built in 1974, the ductility, or flexibility, standards from the American Concrete Institute were not part of the building code.

Six other barriers do not meet the building codes that were in place when they were constructed in 1999, the report says.

Most of the 268 barriers, or spandrels, in the 10-floor garage are in “good condition,” the study notes.

River Park Square spokeswoman Jennifer West said nothing in the report indicates the garage is unsafe.

But an attorney representing Savage’s family disagreed.

“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,” family attorney Robert Rembert said. “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 Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

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

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

Improvements on the older spandrels will be voluntary because most of the garage is grandfathered in and doesn’t have to meet newer regulations, West 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 reinforcing steel bars inside the barriers.

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

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