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Muni Building ‘extremely fragile’

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By Katy Korkos

The final report from engineers will determine the fate of the county’s Municipal Building, but evidence gathered by John A. Martin & Associates (JAMA) shows the 40 year-old landmark to be “an extremely fragile structure,” according to a letter from architect Gregory Hartman of The Design Group.Hartman also recommended a fence be placed around the building to protect the public.The county has contracted the architectural firm to assess the building and to produce a report that will be used to guide the county on how best to replace or repair the building.“We hired the architectural engineering group to do a cost evaluation, to determine the cost of demolish and build versus rehab and build an annex to get to the total number of square feet we need,” Municipal Building Project Manager Steven Huebner said in an interview Thursday. “The measurements are done, and the report from the Design Group is due Dec. 14.”Huebner said that he would present the cost evaluation to council at the Jan. 29 meeting.“We don’t expect a decision then,” he said. “They still need to have another presentation about the downtown development, probably in February or March,” Huebner said. “One of the goals for the Municipal Building is to have all the services, including the Utilities Department, in one location.”Structural deficiencies in the building “were first discovered when the county had the building assessed because it was looking at rehabbing the building, to upgrade electrical and mechanical systems,” Huebner said.He said that some evidence of structural problems could be seen with the naked eye, particularly a dip in the second floor slab.“One window would regularly crack and break,” Huebner said. We finally replaced it with plywood.”Huebner said that the structural engineers did a computer model to analyze the concrete floor as well as test the building for seismic stability.“They took the as-built plans,” he said, “then inspected the building to see that it matched the plans, then they do a computer model.”Hartman sent a letter to Huebner, dated Dec. 3, to Huebner, in which he recommends placing a fence or barrier around the building.In his letter, Hartman says, “JAMA believes that the existing Municipal Building is an extremely fragile structure. They believe the structure does not possess the strength, durability or toughness that an existing building should possess in order to protect the life and safety of its occupants.“Also they have noted that there are conditions such as punching shear in the second floor at the corner columns, which are well beyond acceptable limits These conditions could lead to a partial or total collapse of the structure. This could happen even in a small to moderate earthquake.”JAMA believes the Los Alamos County’s decision to vacate the structure was excellent. Due to the potential for collapse, we are also recommending that some form of barrier be placed around the building until such time as the hazard is removed by repair or demolition.”The county’s response to the sense of urgency noted in the letter was to place the decision on a barrier for the building on Tuesday’s council agenda.“Our intention, once council makes a decision, we’ll act immediately,” Huebner said.