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Who’s To Blame for Faulty Foster Tower?

October 6, 2009

By Tony Illia

CityCenter, the highly publicized $8.5 billion mixed-use project now under construction on the Las Vegas Strip
Image courtesy MGM Mirage Inc.
A rendering of the oval-shaped Harmon Hotel & Spa at its original designed height of 49 stories (top). An aerial photo of CityCenter under construction (above); Harmon Hotel & Hotel is pictured in the bottom right corner. The project was scaled back to 28 stories, roughly half of its original height, due to construction defects.
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Despite the recession, CityCenter continues to rise on the Las Vegas Strip, with several buildings scheduled to open later this year. One project that certainly has not turned out as planned is the 400-room Harmon Hotel tower, designed by Foster + Partners, which will be nearly half its estimated height due to construction defects. The problems have escalated into finger-pointing between project parties, resulting in legal actions and project reviews that are still under way.

The 28-story oval-shaped high-rise broke ground on in July 2006. Pacific Coast Steel, a San Diego-based subcontractor to Perini Building Co., improperly installed reinforcing steel inside link beams on 15 floors, a Clark County Building Department investigation revealed.

The problem should have been caught by inspectors, but a third-party California inspection firm, Converse Consultants, falsified 62 daily reports between March and July of 2008, stating that the steel was properly installed, according to county inspectors, who also missed the problems.

The defects were discovered in July 2008 by the project’s structural engineer, Halcrow Yolles Structural Engineer, temporarily halting construction and leading to the Harmon’s redesign. Owner MGM Mirage declined to disclose the cost of the errors.

This April, Pacific Coast Steel paid $14,105 in fines after a Nevada State Contractors Board investigation discovered “workmanship” issues. As part of a settlement, the firm did not admit fault. In August, Converse Consultants was suspended from seeking new work in Southern Nevada for six months, and its inspectors had their qualifications revoked or suspended.

The subcontractor says Foster + Partners is partly to blame. “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,” said Perini President Craig Shaw in a statement.

The Harmon’s design called for pouring top portions of 8-foot-thick link beams at the same time as the floor slab, which is a tricky procedure given the tight and exact spacing of reinforcing rebar. However, the contract made installation adjustments in field. Stirrup hooks, in some cases, were spaced incorrectly and extended past the floor, prompting workers to cut it off so it wouldn't show, the county inspectors say.

Corrective work and a structural building redesign are in progress. The building will safely reach 28 stories; pricier work would be needed to meet the originally designed height of 49 stories, say project officials, who would not elaborate. Foster + Partners declined to comment for this story.

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