Engineering firm says Texas A&M athletic facility wasn’t built to withstand the highest winds

By Danny Robbins, AP
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Firm: Texas A&M facility wasn’t built to code

DALLAS — Texas A&M University’s tentlike athletic complex wasn’t built to withstand the maximum winds prescribed by the building code, according to an engineering firm hired by the university to evaluate the $35.6 million structure.

The analysis by Haynes Whaley Associates of Houston suggests that the McFerrin Athletic Center was built using a flawed design similar to that linked to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility, which collapsed in May, injuring a dozen people.

Both of the steel and fabric structures were designed by Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Texas Public Information Act show that Haynes Whaley executive vice president Mark Thompson informed Texas A&M in September that his firm didn’t believe the McFerrin Center could withstand the 90 mph winds, as specified by national standards.

Summit has added a series of cables to the facility’s steel frame in response to Haynes Whaley’s concerns, the documents show. The company could make more repairs if ongoing wind tunnel testing shows they are warranted, according to the documents.

Completed last year, the McFerrin Center includes two side-by-side buildings — one an indoor football practice facility, the other a running track — that cover 191,000 square feet.

In his initial correspondence with Texas A&M, Thompson wrote that the company believed the load-bearing capability of the facility was so compromised that it should be closed “out of an abundance of caution.”

However, the university didn’t follow the recommendation. Texas A&M spokesman Jason Cook said the university decided not to close the facility after “continued dialogue” with Haynes Whaley and because it had handled high winds during Hurricane Ike last year.

As an added precaution, Cook said, the school has been monitoring severe weather, emptying the facility when appropriate.

“A greater understanding of the structures was realized as the review process progressed,” he wrote in an e-mail to AP.

Because of the completed repairs, the football building is now certified to code and the track building can handle winds up to 75 mph, according to Cook.

Thompson referred all comment on his firm’s work to Texas A&M. In a statement, Summit president and chief executive officer Nathan Stobbe said the company continues to work closely with Texas A&M to ensure that the facility is safe.

Summit has been enmeshed in controversy since the Cowboys’ facility collapsed in a wind storm last May 2 while the team was conducting rookie drills. Rich Behm, a member of the team’s scouting department, was paralyzed from the waist down, and special teams coach Joe DeCamillas suffered a broken vertebrae.

The Cowboys’ facility was at least the fifth built by Summit known to have collapsed since 2002. A report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology last month stated that the facility fell in winds of 55 mph to 65 mph and that several design flaws were to blame.

One issue relating to the Texas A&M facility is whether the track building, 104 feet at its highest point, would be particularly susceptible to high winds. Based on its height, Haynes Whaley contends, the wind loading for the building has been incorrectly determined.

“For this height of building, the building code would require a wind loading pattern that includes a downward wind component,” Thompson wrote.

Summit has contracted with a wind tunnel lab to test whether this theory is correct and will make additional repairs if it’s found to be valid, according to the documents.

Haynes Whaley was hired by the university in August at the direction of interim president R. Bowen Loftin. The university had previously said it was comfortable with an inspection conducted by Summit in late May that gave the building a clean bill of health.

Cook said Summit’s repairs are acceptable to the university because of Haynes Whaley’s involvement.

“Yes, Summit did the work, but they weren’t evaluating it themselves,” he said.

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