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Old 02-07-2007, 09:08 PM   #1
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Default Slab of Convention Center Collapsed


Convention center slab crashes to street

By The Tribune-Review
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The architect, engineer and contractors who built the David L. Lawrence Convention Center will inspect the Downtown structure today to determine whether it is safe to host shows after a concrete slab fell from the building onto the street below.

No one was injured when the 20-by-60-foot slab fell shortly before 2 p.m. Monday as a tractor-trailer was driving over it inside the building's second-floor loading area, which sits above a portion of 10th Street. The truck partially fell through the floor, its wheels dangling from the building. A large forklift, however, fell through completely and crashed on a walkway 30 feet below.

"We just heard this massive rumble and the entire building shook," said Russell Miller, of Miller Marine in Washington County, which had displayed boats during the Pittsburgh Boat Show that ended Saturday. "It was pretty freaky."

The building was evacuated for 2 1/2 hours, according to a written statement from Mary Conturo, executive director of the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, the building's owner. Conturo did not return messages seeking comment.

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"The architect, Rafael Vinoly Architects, the structural engineer, Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, the construction manager, Turner/PJDick/ATS, and the steel contractor, ADF Group Inc., have all been called and will be at the site by (this) afternoon to assess the situation," Conturo said in the statement.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl planned a news conference for this afternoon to discuss the mishap.

Witnesses said the truck driver had just exited the rig when the collapse occurred. The driver declined to comment.

Others in the building were removing items from the boat show and preparing for the 2007 Pittsburgh International Auto Show, scheduled to begin this weekend. The show attracts tens of thousands of visitors and has been one of the region's largest annual shows since the 1950s.

The fate of the nine-day auto show remained in doubt last night. Organizers were waiting for reports about the building's condition, said show spokeswoman Deedee Taft.

Miller, of Waynesburg, Greene County, said he heard the collapse as he loaded a boat onto a truck trailer inside the building.

"I heard a rumble and I thought that the boat was falling," he said.

Bob McCarthy, a Teamster with Local 249, said he was among about 100 workers in the building.

"All of a sudden, all the alarms went off, the lights started flashing and an announcement came on the loudspeakers telling us there was an emergency in the building and we had to evacuate," he said.

Worker Dave Mernak, of Belle Vernon, Fayette County, was inside a truck and didn't feel the rumble, so he didn't take the evacuation orders seriously at first.

"I thought it was prank callers to 911," he said. "It's all concrete. It can't burn."

Crane operators were brought in to determine how to remove the tractor-trailer, which was pinned by concrete and debris, said city Public Works Director Guy Costa. It won't be removed until today, Costa said.

Although the building has won major prizes from engineering groups, a foundation problem and a fatal accident delayed its construction several times. Construction was halted in November 2001 after engineers determined that 18 misaligned portions of the foundation had shifted.

During construction on Feb. 12, 2002, a 150-ton steel truss fell and crushed ironworker Paul Corsi Jr. Investigators said the truss had been secured with nuts too small and weak to hold its weight.

New York-based Rafael Vinoly Architects declined to comment about the collapse. An executive at the New York office of London-based structural engineers Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners also declined to comment.

Police and firefighters closed off 10th Street between Penn Avenue and Fort Duquesne Boulevard and sealed off Fort Duquesne Boulevard in front of the convention center, and Penn Avenue between 10th and 11th streets.

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