Large crack in condo prompts evacuation

Support column bowed, engineers say, causing damage to facade of building

October 24, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN REPORTER

Residents of a 140-unit Baltimore County condominium complex were evacuated late yesterday afternoon when a large crack suddenly appeared in the brick exterior and officials declared it unsafe to occupy.

A 2-foot to 3-foot crack was discovered in the Pikesville complex's facade near a second-story window about 1 p.m., after a resident reported hearing a popping sound, said Lt. Vernon Adamson, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Fire Department.

An engineering company hired by the complex's management found that a steel support column that runs through the center of the five-story structure at 130 Slade Ave. was bowed. The flaw was discovered after chipping away at a section of the column's concrete outer layer.

Engineers were working last night to repair the irregular column, and several steel supports are being added to reinforce the structural integrity of the twin adjoining buildings, said Mike Klein, an owner of WP & M Real Estate Group, which manages the complex.

"The center piece could collapse," Klein said. "It could rock the building."

The complex's board of directors, condo owners themselves, decided to evacuate the complex, but management expected residents to be allowed to return by this afternoon.

Klein attributed the crack to normal deterioration over time and said the complex was constructed in 1962. The columns, which are exposed at the bottom of the building's center, have been struck by cars several times in the past.

"It's age," Klein said. "It's like needing a knee replacement tomorrow. It's part of life. It's replacing the roof on your house."

County emergency operations contacted The Associated, a Jewish charity, and the Red Cross to assist residents in finding temporary shelter. About 240 residents live in the complex, county emergency operations officials estimated.

Many of the building's residents, who gathered outside yesterday as crews worked on repairs and a news helicopter hovered overhead, appeared relatively unbothered by the upheaval.

LaVerne Bankins, who has lived there for about five years, said she plans to stay with her brother nearby. The part-time employee at a travel agency was allowed to re-enter her condo to get a change of clothes.

"I hate to impose," she said. "But it's better to be safe than sorry."

Another resident, Melanie Bass, a child care provider, said she was relieved no one was injured.

"I really thought someone got hurt," Bass said. "It's kind of scary."

Takeru Igusa, a professor of civil engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, said that steel generally does not fail but that the concrete casing might have deteriorated over time.

"Steel just doesn't decay," Igusa said. "Concrete, you have to be a little more careful. It's kind of like old cheap bookcases, if you put a lot of books on them, they start to bend. But that never happens in steel. Buildings are not supposed to do that."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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