There can be no excuse. Public Safety must come first in the Commonwealth
The collapse of the concrete ceiling panels in the I-90 Tunnel Connector on July 10, 2006, was a tragedy that didn’t have to happen if public safety was of paramount concern in the Commonwealth.
The designs for buildings and structures must be prepared by a coordinated team of engineering professionals that looks at the entire project with the primary focus of safety as the project goal. A second concern is using common sense in choosing building materials. Why 3000 pound concrete panels were chosen to serve as a multi-function ceiling finish material when other products are available that could potentially serve the same purpose is beyond my comprehension. As a builder and building code official, I am primarily charged with putting public safety first. We should all be outraged that problems with the fastening bolts were raised years ago by inspectors. It appears quite evident that nothing was done with that information. How could this possibly be?
We have problems with how we design buildings and structures, particularly government projects. A typical construction review method used in the “Big Dig” and other government projects called “Value Engineering” needs to be questioned as being appropriate when government must put the publicâs safety first. In this method of cost cutting on construction projects, the designersâ plans and specifications are picked apart by an additional team of “experts” to reduce costs.
Typically utilizing “Value Engineering”, the sizes of structural members and other components of buildings and structures are reduced to their absolute minimum to save money. In commercial buildings for example, office ceilings are “Value Engineered” to become air ducts instead of using the traditional metal supply and metal return ducts used for heating, cooling and ventilation. These ceiling spaces are ripe for contamination. We have seen increased respiratory problems with building occupants because of âValue Engineeringâ cost cutting in an effort to save property owners money. This method of project planning must be thrown out the window when it comes to any project where the public has access. This includes bridges, tunnels, school and all buildings and structures that are used by the general public.
Where do we look to stop needless death and injury in buildings and structures that we occupy and use in Massachusetts? The building regulatory system is ripe for overhaul. It is unfortunate that the death of innocent people is what it takes to make us do what we should have been doing all along. State administrations going back to Governor Weld have turned their backs on revamping the building regulatory system. The Commonwealthâs building code dates back to 1993, which does not adequately reflect the many changes and heightened understanding of ever evolving construction problems and needs. To the mix, many state and local inspections agencies are seriously understaffed.
Many of us in the construction industry have brought proposed changes to the current and prior administrations to adopt modern building codes and create uniform training for building, electrical, plumbing, health and fire inspectors. We have been rebuffed many times. We are talking about the adoption of modern building standards and methods of construction. We are talking about making the Commonwealth’s front line defense in building and structure safety, our inspectors, trained fully to understand how the complex puzzle of construction goes together. The administrations rebuffs, on top of defying logic, has Massachusetts property owners paying higher insurance premiums because of the archaic code we have and lack of uniform training for inspectors and others in the building community. The state administration knows we are deficient and does nothing.
It will take new blood and new ideas to move our Commonwealth ahead in a progressive manner so that we are safe. Public safety should never be placed on the back burner by those that run the Commonwealth. Our citizens should not have to travel in a state of apprehension when using any of our facilities. We are now looking at the death of a fellow citizen who is someone’s wife and mother because of cost cutting, use of inappropriate materials and ignored inspection reports. What constitutes the greater âvalueâ – the bottom line or human life?
(Matthias J. Mulvey, CBO, CET is a licensed builder, a Massachusetts certified building commissioner, Member of the International Code Council Reference Standards Committee, President of the New England Building Code Association, former President of the Massachusetts Building Commissioners and Inspectors Association and current Director, A member of the National Fire Protection Association, serving on the Education and Architects, Engineers and Building Officials Committees, holds a degree in Building Construction from Wentworth Institute of Technology and is a Democratic candidate for the Massachusetts State Senate Plymouth and Norfolk District.)