Council Discusses Potential for Moving Residents Out of St Anne amid Persistent Safety Concerns

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 1:59 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Safety concerns about the construction of St. Anne Lofts have yet to abate, as became evident by a tense exchange at City Council last night. The discussion veered into the question of whether and how residents will be moved out of the building if the owner cannot satisfy the conditions of the temporary Certificate of Occupancy by next Friday, September 14.

Tim Dempsey, director of Planning for the City, told Council that “relatively minor” items need to be addressed to preserve the Certificate of Occupancy that allows residents to occupy the building’s floors 2-4. Those items were specified in building inspector Scott Weaver’s letter to Kris Elliott, owner of the project, on August 15 and include: providing a geotechnical investigation; assuring that the “deep foundations” were correctly installed; providing auger cast pile calculations for each cast pile in the foundation; providing documentation of inspections of steel, concrete, and masonry features of the construction; and testing the elevator slab’s concrete and steel reinforcement.

Contrary to Dempsey’s characterization of these outstanding issues as “relatively minor,” Councilmember Vic Loomis expressed serious reservations about what is known and still unknown with regard to how the building was constructed. Loomis pressed Dempsey to explain whether Weaver’s letter even covers all of the concerns raised by C2AE, the engineering firm independently hired by the City to review the building’s construction following a four-story floor collapse during construction.

Said Loomis, “I don’t agree with staff’s decision to let people move in. I don’t think we should have given the temporary CO” given what he termed the “gymnastics that have occurred with this project.” He went on to say that if the owner could not meet the conditions by next Friday, someone would have to go in and move the residents out, “which would be very unfortunate for all involved.”

To this, City Attorney Tom Yeadon responded that he thought it would have been “just as unfortunate not to let them move in.” Yeadon did not explain. Loomis shot back, “That’s a judgment call.”

Councilmember Kevin Beard also pressed Dempsey to explain what will happen if the conditions on the CO are not met by next Friday, and also expressed frustration with trying to understand what remains outstanding among C2AE’s concerns.

Loomis pointed that “the practicality is some of these things will never be forthcoming,” because the foundation – about which engineering questions persist – has been covered by a five-story building. “Once you put structure on foundation, you can’t go in and do the testing, unless there is some system I’m not aware of,” said Loomis. He noted that he knew and trusted the company who built the foundation, King based in Holland, Michigan, but said that he had asked more than one contractor if it was possible to now do the appropriate testing on the foundation materials, and they had concurred with him that “the opportunity has passed you by.”

Loomis noted the language of hedging in architect Russell Peabody’s letter on the matter of the building and expressed particular concern, as has C2AE, with regard to the foundation being constructed of two different foundation system types. “Do we have a structural engineer of record?” Loomis asked. Staff did not respond to the question.

Speaking bluntly, Loomis went on to say that he hoped the building turned out to be the safest in East Lansing, but the project had not left him confident. He said he was “starting to become concerned about personal liability” and about “the exposure and liability the city can have here.”

Mayor Diane Goddeeris was absent due to her attendance at the Democratic National Convention. Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett remained largely silent during the exchange, speaking only twice briefly, once at the beginning to say that Council had been receiving weekly reports on the safety concerns. Loomis disagreed with Triplett’s claim, saying “we have not gotten weekly updates” as the motion put forth by the Mayor and passed by Council at the July 24 meeting had clearly required of staff.

I have repeatedly asked the city for the weekly updates mandated by the July 24 vote of Council, and have today put in a FOIA request on them, following Triplett’s claim that they do exist. On this subject, City Manager George Lahanas said at Council last night that the city staff had “providing rolling updates on email to Council,” and said that if Council wanted a narrative report, that could be provided.

At this, Triplett started to read the July 24 motion, but stopped before the audience could hear what Goddeeris’s motion actually said, which was this:

"That weekly reports addressing the reports regarding the deficiencies will be given to Council; and further move that the City Manager will have those officials responsible to answer Councilmembers’ questions at every meeting between now and when a certificate of occupancy is ready to be issued."

Seeing that Triplett would not read the entire July 24 motion on the safety concerns, I called upon him to do so. He still did not read it.

Councilmember Beard said he agreed with Loomis “that it is difficult for us to connect the dots from C2AE” to “where we are today.” He went on to say that it is difficult to understand “which [concerns] are still outstanding, which ones are partial.” Beard concluded, “I don’t have a good feel for it.”

 

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