Report: Univ. of New Mexico facility vulnerable to winds that caused Cowboys’ canopy collapse

By Danny Robbins, AP
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Report cites flaw in Univ. of New Mexico facility

DALLAS — A second university has learned that its indoor practice facility for football is vulnerable to the same type of winds that toppled the Dallas Cowboys’ practice building last year, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press.

An independent engineering study conducted for the University of New Mexico found that the Albuquerque school’s steel and fabric facility could be subjected to unforeseen pressure if hit by a major wind storm. The study by an Albuquerque engineering firm was completed earlier this month and obtained by the AP through a public records request.

The facility was designed and built by Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa., which also constructed the failed Cowboys’ building. A dozen people were injured when that facility fell in a wind storm last May 2.

In September, Texas A&M was informed through a similar analysis that its Summit-designed indoor football and track facility wasn’t built to withstand the maximum winds prescribed by the building code.

The New Mexico report, prepared by Chavez-Grieves Consulting Engineers Inc., states that the 86,100-square-foot structure was designed as an enclosed building when it’s only partially so. The report says wind could flow through four louvres that are part of the ventilation system without adequate avenues for escape.

“The result will be significant internal pressure forces that were not accounted for in the original design of the building,” the firm wrote.

Despite that criticism, Chavez-Grieves said it believes the New Mexico facility was better designed than the Cowboys’ building, in part because it doesn’t rely on the fabric to brace the frame. Summit built the New Mexico facility in 2007, four years after it put up the Cowboys’ 88,000-square-foot building.

“Several of the details that led to the collapse of the Dallas facility are not present in the UNM facility,” the report states.

University records show that an inspection of the facility conducted by Summit on May 26 found nothing out of order.

“As expected, we did not find any areas of concern with the structure,” a Summit representative wrote in the e-mail to which the inspection report was attached.

Tim Cass, the university’s senior associate athletic director, said the school has had a plan in place since Dec. 1 requiring that the building only be used with the louvres and doors closed. The plan also calls for the building to be vacated in winds exceeding 60 mph.

Cass said the university is working with Summit to figure out a way to strengthen the building so it can be used with the ventilation system operating and under any weather conditions.

“Independent of what’s happened elsewhere, they’ve given us confidence that they want to be part of the solution,” he said of the company.

Summit’s president and CEO, Nathan Stobbe, issued a statement saying the company has been working closely with the university “to ensure that they have a safe structure.”

Texas A&M’s report, prepared by a Houston engineering firm, prompted Summit to make major additions to the frame of the school’s 191,000-square-foot building. The university also was told by Summit that a late May inspection had found no problems.

The collapse of the Cowboys’ facility left scout Rich Behm paralyzed from the waist down and caused special teams coach Joe DeCamillas to suffer a broken vertebrae. Both have filed lawsuits accusing Summit and related companies of gross negligence.

In October, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a report that said the Cowboys’ facility fell in winds of 55 to 65 mph, far less than the 90 mph wind speed specified by engineering standards.

At least six Summit-designed buildings are known to have collapsed since 2002. The most recent occurred on Jan. 6 in Meadville, Pa., where a 38,400-square-foot dairy barn on the county fairgrounds fell under heavy snow.

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