Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Barclays Center opened with defective bolts, not disclosed fully to Department of Buildings; problem hints at why ESD, construction monitor have obscured the issue

The New York Times's scoop today, Problem With Weak Bolts Has Complicated the Barclays Center’s Early Days, reveals that the arena opened even as the developer acknowledged that more than 1700 defective, weak bolts had been used to attach the facade.

The article suggests that the city Department of Buildings (DOB) was not sufficiently informed by developer Forest City Ratner about the bolts, which were half as strong as requested.

Bucket of apparent replacement bolts, Sept. 2012,
photographed outside ASI Limited office on Dean St.
Moreover, unmentioned in the article, neither Empire State Development, the state agency overseeing the arena, nor the construction monitor for bondholders have been fully forthcoming about this issue.

In fact, both have interrupted their regular schedule of reports, for reasons unexplained. The new information could bolster suspicion that the reports were withheld to obscure the problem.

Indeed, the reports that did emerge obscured the problem in their own way, failing in one case to indicate defects and in the other the scope of the defects. It's still unclear how much danger the defective bolts have posed.

The scoop

The Times's Charles Bagli writes:
And lately, iron workers have replaced hundreds of bolts that anchor the panels to the building’s structure. Engineers determined that weaker ones were originally installed, raising concerns about the structure’s integrity.
The incorrect bolts were discovered only a month before the Barclays Center was scheduled to open on Sept. 28. ...
After examining every joint, engineers determined that only 8 percent of the 23,351 weaker bolts needed to be replaced.
Who was told

The DOB says it was not informed:
“The department was not made aware of this issue,” said Anthony Sclafani, a Buildings Department spokesman. “We would expect to be notified in a case like this.”
But Forest City provided a copy of a nine-page letter concerning the bolts that it said had been filed with the Buildings Department on Sept. 14. That was the day the agency issued a temporary certificate of occupancy [TCO] that allowed the arena to open as scheduled.
The letter, from an engineering company, outlined a plan to address the “recent discovery” that incorrect bolts had been used. It did not indicate how many bolts would be replaced, only that a “change out” had begun.
In other words, whatever the DOB was told, it wasn't enough. (The DOB web site indicates multiple outstanding requirements for the current TCO, but I was unable to get any details when I inquired.)

What ESD told the public

The problem was hardly explained to the public by ESD, which issues regular two-week Construction Updates prepared by Forest City Ratner.

While the work has apparently continued since the arena opened--the Times reports that workers last month "were replacing the final batch"--ESD stopped issuing regular updates after mid-October, as the graphic above indicates.

Moreover, the Construction Updates issued 9/24/12 and 10/8/12 did not indicate the scope of the problem, stating merely that facade panels would continue to be installed and replaced. There was no mention of defective bolts.

The 12/3/12 Construction Update made no mention of facade panel installation.

What bondholders were told

Merritt & Harris, the construction monitor that reports to the state, Forest City, and bondholders, also has been obfuscatory.

While the Times reports that an engineering firm discovered the that the "fabricator had sent five-eighths-of-an-inch bolts that were half as strong as those of that size that had been ordered," such detail has not appeared in the Merritt & Harris reports.

First, as I wrote 12/7/12, Merritt & Harris apparently skipped public issuances of two Site Observation Reports, failing to make public #30 and #31.

Second, the information shared in Merritt & Harris's 11/30/12 document contained the exact same text regarding Deficiency Items as in the 4/2/12 document, except that the later document references a later consultant's report.

In other words, while the problem apparently persisted, there was no indication of the extent--except for a failure to reference an expected "sign off of all corrective work" expected "to be made available by the first week of October 2012."

The Merritt & Harris documents, while indicating "defective installation," did not specify defective bolts nor indicate their extent.

From the April Merritt & Harris report

From the November Merritt & Harris report



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