Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Clark County’s Development Services Department has no record of its monitors ever visiting the Harmon construction project at CityCenter during the period last year when faulty rebar was installed in the tower, department officials said.
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The county plans to make changes in the program that monitors private third-party construction site inspectors responsible for reviewing such work, and to begin an internal review of the system, Director of Development Services Ron Lynn said in an interview at his offices Wednesday.
“We do not have a record (the monitors) were physically walking the site,” Lynn said. “It doesn’t appear they were doing oversight at the level we would have liked.”
The eventual discovery of 15 floors of faulty rebar at The Harmon led MGM Mirage to announce last week that it would top off the building — originally planned as a 49-story tower — at 28 floors, canceling 200 planned condo units.
The incident puzzled Lynn and other experts, who couldn’t understand how general contractor Perini Building Co. and subcontractor Pacific Coast Steel could have installed the rebar with different mistakes throughout.
In some cases, the reinforcing steel was installed in the wrong locations inside beams, the county said. Some of the steel was so badly positioned it stuck out of the concrete floor and was sawed off to conceal the mistake.
Neither Perini nor Pacific Coast Steel responded to requests for comment.
The contractors are required by law to make sure the rebar is installed properly.
The incident has shed light on the Development Services program that monitors third-party inspectors — known as “special inspectors” — who are hired to provide constant oversight of complicated construction procedures to ensure structural integrity.
Begun in California to address earthquake-safety concerns, the use of such inspectors is standard in building departments across the country to make sure structures are not just designed but also constructed to properly hold up.
Building departments say it would be too unwieldy for governmental agencies to employ these inspectors themselves. Instead, project owners are required to hire them, and governmental agencies offer varying methods and levels of oversight.
Clark County has about 1,200 registered special inspectors who work for private agencies and must be approved by the county.
“They’re our eyes and ears,” Lynn said.
On paper, Clark County’s special inspector program is a model nationally — with tougher requirements of the privately hired inspectors and more scrutiny and specialized oversight than many other municipalities provide.
The county employs 12 “monitors” with the same type of specialized training as the special inspectors. The monitors review the private inspectors’ reports and issue violations to contractors for noncompliance detected by the private inspectors. The monitors are also supposed to spot-check the private inspectors to make sure they’re doing their jobs properly.
At The Harmon, the monitors did not appear to be fulfilling this responsibility.
The project’s engineer of record in July discovered that contractors had wrongly installed structural rebar on floors 6 to 15.
That discovery was made after the special inspectors hired by MGM Mirage had wrongly issued report after report to the county declaring the project in compliance.
The county-employed monitors directed to oversee those private inspectors didn’t file a single report indicating they were visiting The Harmon during this period.
Lynn and Manager of Engineering Theodore Droessler said they found this disturbing.
It could have been a paperwork mix-up, Lynn said: The county moved to a new database system last year to track employee time and these workers at CityCenter did not enter logs into the system, he said.
But the monitors also did not file reports marking that they received clearance of each floor from the private inspectors, as would have been expected, Lynn and Droessler noted.
“It’s usually a good time for the inspector to make an entry, to say that they physically encountered acceptable construction,” Droessler said. “There weren’t any entries in this case.”
Lynn and Droessler said they’re concerned the county employees may not have been visiting The Harmon. That could have been due to the overwhelming scope of their duties monitoring the entire $9.2 billion CityCenter project, where seven buildings have risen simultaneously, they said.
One county worker was stationed full time at CityCenter while another was working part time at CityCenter and part time at Echelon, another massive project that was halted in August amid the recession.
It appears the county monitors were reviewing the reports from the private inspectors without spot-checking the work, Lynn and Droessler said.
“Could they have caught this? The answer is yes,” Droessler said. “But the focus for the monitors has been on reviewing the daily reports from the special inspectors and paying particular attention to noncompliance.”
Lynn has since instructed monitors to more vigorously spot-check private inspectors to make sure they are acting properly. He is also adding several monitor positions and plans to place two additional workers at CityCenter for a total of four county monitors on the project.
“Since the incident, we’ve been asked to be on the projects and do more direct verification of some actual construction work, to actually look at some of the construction compared to the drawings,” Droessler said. “That activity was pretty light. We would get out on the projects where we knew there were problems.”
The county is currently wrapping up an investigation of the two special inspectors at The Harmon as well as of Converse Consultants, the agency that employed them. It could lift approval of the employees or the agency if it finds they acted improperly.
Converse Consultants representatives did not respond to phone calls.
Lynn said it appears the two Converse inspectors at The Harmon have not worked on any other sites in the county.
After work is done on that investigation, Lynn said, he plans to begin an internal review of the department’s oversight at The Harmon.
County commissioners said they plan to ask questions of Lynn regarding the program. Several said they had never heard of the special inspection procedure until last week.
“I think this raises questions about the purview of the private inspectors — what their job is, how it is being done, what standards they are held to and why it didn’t work,” Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. “This is a public safety issue and the integrity of these buildings is a major concern. I want some more answers.”
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she plans to raise concerns at the meeting on construction workplace safety she is convening at the end of the month.
“We should know what we expect from the monitors,” Giunchigliani said. “Is it just paper-pushing or are they on site? Do we have enough checks and balances?”