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April 16, 2014

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CONSTRUCTION:

Perini redirects blame for errors at Harmon

Company president: Design flaws mishandled by subcontractor, inspectors

Image

Steve Marcus

MGM Mirage’s $9 billion CityCenter project is seen from the Panorama Towers. In the wake of errors made in the placement of reinforcing steel on the project’s Harmon hotel, Clark County has changed its policy in regard to the inspectors who work on the site.

CityCenter Construction

MGM Mirage's $9 billion CityCenter project, encompassing seven buildings, continues rising Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Perini Building Co. is disputing Clark County’s claim that construction problems alone — and not design problems — led to the faulty installation of reinforcing steel at CityCenter’s troubled Harmon tower.

In a statement Friday, company President Craig Shaw said Perini “stands by its opinion that design conflicts contributed to the Harmon Hotel structural issues and that portions of the structural drawings, as designed and permitted, contained elements of reinforcing steel that could not be installed as drawn.”

Perini, the general contractor on the $9 billion project, also attempted to implicate Pacific Coast Steel, the project’s reinforcing steel contractor, and Converse Consultants, the third-party quality control inspectors for the site.

“Unfortunately,” Shaw said, both companies attempted to resolve design conflicts by “modifying the placement of the reinforcing steel, as it was installed.” Because the third-party inspectors did not notify the county or Perini of the problems, “these issues did not get elevated to the appropriate ... levels of authority,” Shaw said.

The company’s attempt to assign blame to Clark County, the subcontractor and inspectors foreshadows what is likely to be a lengthy battle over liability for extensive remediation on the 15 floors of the Harmon, where the reinforcing steel was improperly installed. The structural problems, along with the faltering economy, prompted owner MGM Mirage to shorten the Harmon by 21 floors — from 49 stories to 28 stories.

The county has consistently maintained that the plans it approved for the project were drawn up accurately and should have been easy to decipher.

“If they had followed the plans, there would not have been an issue,” county spokesman Dan Kulin said Friday. “The subcontractor (Pacific Coast Steel) did not follow the approved plans.”

Pacific Coast Steel and Converse Consultants have not returned calls for comment.

In a July letter, project engineer Halcrow Yolles defended the building’s design.

“The current information we possess leads us to believe that our design has been adversely compromised,” Halcrow Yolles associate Trent Miller wrote. “The apparent lack of quality control that has occurred must be addressed and resolved before the continuation of construction of the tower.”

Halcrow Yolles representatives have declined to comment on the Harmon.

The 15 floors of wrongly installed rebar were discovered last summer by a Halcrow Yolles representative. By then, much of the rebar had been covered in concrete.

County officials have noted that if the subcontractor or general contractor found the drawings problematic, they could have formally requested that the engineer clarify the plans.

In addition, people familiar with the project say Perini should have had its own quality assurance officers on the site to catch the problems.

The Nevada State Contractors Board is the venue where the question of which party is responsible for the problems will be disputed.

Two weeks ago, the county sent the board complaints against Perini and Pacific Coast Steel.

State investigators will determine whether the cases should be brought before a hearings officer who could issue large fines against the companies — or even revoke their licenses.

License revocation usually occurs after a company has racked up numerous complaints, said Hal Taylor, a Reno licensing attorney who has served as counsel to the Contractors Board.

The board’s databases show no record of any decisions against Perini or Pacific Coast.

The board is prohibited from releasing information on complaints filed against contractors that have not yet resulted in decisions, board spokesman Art Nadler said.

With a company as large as Perini — a construction giant that has worked on numerous large casino projects in Las Vegas and elsewhere — “there might be some political complications,” Taylor said.

“The board is not afraid to take on large contractors but it gets more complicated with a large project with a lot of paperwork,” he said.

In such cases, the strong likelihood of civil litigation often plays a role as the parties seek leverage and use the results of the investigation in their negotiating strategies, Taylor said.

The dispute will also play out at the Nevada State Engineers and Land Surveyors Board, to which the county sent a formal complaint against Don Christiansen. He supervised the Converse inspectors who wrongly signed off on compliance reports.

In a letter, Clark County principal engineer David Durkee asked the engineering board to investigate Christiansen’s conduct.

Yet another venue will handle the county’s own administrative hearings.

In a Jan. 9 memo, Durkee recommended Converse “be sanctioned in accordance with the provisions of the Building Administrative code” following a hearing. County code requires that a hearing officer determine any sanction for Converse, which the county believes violated code in issuing false reports.

The problems have also led to a change in policy at the county.

County monitors, who are charged with overseeing third-party private inspectors such as Converse, received formal written word last week that they are to physically observe construction practices at CityCenter a minimum of two times a day, rather than merely review paperwork and act on reports from private third-party inspectors, Kulin said.

That addresses an area of concern that arose after the Harmon problems surfaced: The two county monitors tasked with overseeing the roughly 50 private third-party inspectors at CityCenter did not appear to have physically observed rebar installation at the Harmon.

Until last week the county had never issued formal written instructions requiring the monitors to physically observe the special inspectors and physically spot-check their work. Instead, they were formally tasked with reviewing reports from the private inspectors and acting if they spotted problems. The monitors can also issue violations against third-party inspectors for inspector misconduct.

Before the new procedures were outlined, some in the department — including its chief — had said physical checks on inspectors’ work was an important aspect of the job. In an interview with the Sun last month, Ron Lynn said he expected monitors to go to building sites and watch as inspectors did such tasks as taking concrete samples to make sure they were properly doing their jobs.

Now — at least for CityCenter — that expectation has become formal department policy.

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