Published Friday, July 24, 2009 | 2:22 p.m.
Updated Saturday, July 25, 2009 | 1:58 a.m.
The discovery of 15 floors of major construction flaws at CityCenter’s Harmon Hotel last year shut down the project for a time, forced MGM Mirage to redesign the building and left numerous questions in its wake.
Among them: Why had the county-approved private inspectors hired by MGM Mirage to inspect the Harmon issued numerous false reports stating that the reinforcing steel was according to plans? Were they knowingly not doing their jobs, or merely incompetent?
Responding to a county request for judgment, an administrative hearing officer this week became the first to officially weigh in on that subject. He said the inspectors hired by Converse Consultants didn’t simply err accidentally, but rather must not have been conducting thorough inspections even though signing documents saying they were.
Converse Consultants could be punished with a suspension of up to six months from taking on new projects in Clark County, according to the county building department’s interpretation of the hearing officer’s order, released Friday afternoon.
The proposed suspension is the latest fallout of the major construction flaws discovered a year ago at the Harmon. Converse has 10 days to appeal.
An engineer on the project found that subcontractor Pacific Coast Steel had wrongly installed 15 floors of reinforcing steel. Neither private inspectors employed by Converse nor county monitors reported the problems.
The discovery, coupled with the recession, prompted MGM Mirage to cut the planned height of the building in half, cancel 200 planned condo units and delay the project.
In April, Pacific Coast Steel agreed to pay $14,105 in administrative fees to the Nevada Contractors Board in a settlement after an investigation. The subcontractor did not admit fault.
Project owners in the county are required to hire approved special inspectors to oversee complicated construction practices.
Converse, a company headquartered in Monrovia, Calif., was hired by MGM Mirage to oversee much of the construction at the $8.4 billion CityCenter project.
After a hearing on June 30, hearing officer Charles Thomas wrote that he had seen sufficient evidence that Converse inspectors Scott Edberg and Joseph Glenn Laurente had falsified 62 daily reports to say they had observed and approved reinforcing steel work at the Harmon.
The reports stated that “all reinforcements were verified in accordance with sheet/details listed above for bar sizes, grades, lap lengths, clearances and quantities prior to placement,” Thomas said.
Although Edberg and Laurente had issued reports noting problems on some levels of the Harmon, they issued no reports indicating structural steel problems on floors 5 through 20, Thomas said.
Therefore, he said, “Converse’s assumption that the assigned Special Inspectors erred in their individual inspections is not correct.” Instead, the inspectors must not have been fulfilling their duty to thoroughly inspect the rebar installations.
Thomas also found that Edberg and Laurente’s superiors at Converse did not train and supervise them properly.
Laurente has told county officers that his Harmon work was the first time he ever read construction plans, despite having received a degree in civil engineering.
Converse attorney Greg Gilbert said in an interview Friday that the company has “a great deal of disputes with the factual findings” but said Converse has not decided whether to appeal.
Converse disagrees with Thomas’ interpretation of the training Converse was required to provide its inspectors, Gilbert said.
Converse attorney Melissa Orien added that Thomas had ignored key evidence in determining that Edberg and Laurente were not thorough in their inspections.
In a preliminary decision after reviewing Thomas’ findings, Development Services Director Ron Lynn said, Converse could be suspended for a maximum of six months. The company could still conduct inspections on projects it is working on, with increased monitoring by the county building department during that time, Lynn said.
Lynn said Converse could be reinstated after the Harmon problems are fixed, after all CityCenter sites where Harmon performed work are reinspected by another agency, and after the county reviews the company’s special inspection program.
Neither Converse attorneys nor county officials could say how many projects Converse is contracted to inspect.
Despite the construction slowdown in the county, Lynn said in an interview that disallowing Converse to take on new work for six months would be a “significant hit” for the company, which he says is fair given the seriousness of the allegations.
“I feel there’s a managerial deficiency here as well as direct inspector deficiency,” Lynn said.
Edberg has been removed from a list of qualified county inspectors and no longer works for Converse. Lynn agreed with Thomas in ordering his qualifications to be a special inspector revoked.
Laurente was removed as a reinforcing steel inspector but still is approved as a soils inspector in the county. Thomas recommended he be suspended from serving as an inspector. Lynn said Laurente could be reconsidered for approval after he passes a structural plans review class and retakes a certification exam.
Converse and the inspectors have until Aug. 1 to file an appeal. If they appeal, the suspensions won’t kick in until after the appeal is resolved by Lynn following another hearing.
Edberg and Laurente could not be reached for comment.