Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 14, 2012
By: Tim O’Reiley
As the hearing over whether to raze the unfinished Harmon Hotel plodded through its third day Wednesday, Perini Building Co. injected a surprise by unveiling a temporary $2 million fix to keep it standing in the event of a serious earthquake.
Perini, general contractor on the $8.5 billion CityCenter that includes the Harmon, has long insisted that it could and would fix any structural defects but previously had not laid out specifics.
Steve Schiller, president of the engineering firm John A. Martin & Associates of Nevada, outlined from the witness stand the $2 million patch that would take six-to-eight weeks to complete. The firm, hired by Perini for the case, essentially calls for constructing eight columns, bookended metal plates, from the base of the fourth floor to the subterranean foundation as a way to absorb any seismic shocks and transfer them harmlessly to the ground.
The repair was not proposed as a permanent solution to the building’s flaws, but as a way to keep it stable through a larger trial over CityCenter’s construction next year.
By contrast, CityCenter half-owner and developer MGM Resorts International determined last year that the Harmon would collapse in a strong quake and can’t be fixed in an economical way. It favors implosion at a cost of $30 million.
Afterward, MGM spokesman Gordon Absher called the Schiller’s approach “a phantom fix.”
“Perini had plenty of time and opportunity to try to repair the Harmon,” he said in a statement. “Its repair efforts did not work. … The fastest, surest and best way to protect public safety is to demolish the building.”
In any event, the building gained at least one more month of its empty existence. As attorneys and engineer witnesses have pored over such esoteric subjects as axial loads, demand-capacity ratios and the proper spacing of steel-reinforcement bars, it has become obvious that the hearing would not finish today as originally hoped. To accommodate differing schedules, Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez set another hearing for April 18.
This will give CityCenter attorneys and consultants the opportunity to probe for any weakness in Schiller’s plan. Also, Gonzalez asked the lawyers to submit a new round of briefs focusing the importance of allowing future jurors to tour the Harmon, whether a sample of defects can be extrapolated over the whole building and the merits of destroying property that could be repaired.
Perini and several other contractors want to preserve the Harmon as physical evidence for the trial, now on the calendar for next February, in their half-billion dollar dispute with CityCenter over its construction. The contractors contend they are entitled to be paid for their work, but CityCenter requests damages for what it contends was a rash of shoddy workmanship.
The Harmon, where work halted after nearly $280 million was spent, is the centerpiece of the dispute. The hotel was initially planned for 48 stories, but capped at 26 and left unfinished. For years it has been the most expensive billboard on the Strip.
The focus of concerns about the Harmon’s safety falls on the fourth floor, which contains “transfer elements,” structural members that would shift earthquake stress on the upper stories to the ones below.
“If those elements fail, there is nothing to hold up the upper stories,” said Chukwuma Ekwueme, the consulting engineer for CityCenter.
His examination of the elements, which included chipping away concrete to look at the steel reinforcing bars, led him to conclude that their construction was too flawed to stand up.
Schiller, however, found that some elements were in good shape and others could be shored up through his plan. Overall, he said that the building could hold up despite defects elsewhere.
“Our analysis showed that it was over-designed for a 48-story building,” he said, and it is now only about half that tall.