Hunt Valley hotel has reopened after a three-month shutdown

Balto. Co. condemned the building after skylight collapsed into atrium

January 17, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

The lush tropical greenery in the atrium has been replanted. The koi are back in their ponds. And the two glass sections of roof that tower eight stories above it all have been replaced, inspected and certified.

Three months after a glass skylight collapsed into the atrium of the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hunt Valley, the hotel has reopened for business.

The staffers of the hotel have planned a reopening celebration - scheduled for 5 p.m. today - to thank firefighters, employees and community members who helped out after the glass skylight came crashing down.

"A lot of nearby hotels came to the rescue when [the hotel] had to close," said Dawn Ray, a spokeswoman for the hotel chain. "They relocated guests and relocated some weddings and other events."

It was about 2 p.m. Oct. 10 when one of two skylights - measuring 29 feet by 60 feet - collapsed into the atrium that runs through the center of the hotel. Guests were forced to evacuate, and a Baltimore County structural engineer condemned the building, declaring it unsafe for occupancy.

No employees and none of the guests in the hotel's 130 occupied rooms were injured.

County inspectors required the hotel to replace not only the skylight that caved in but also the one beside it, which contained "some unusual-looking cracks" that caused some concern, said Timothy M. Kotroco, the county director of permits and development management.

The county directed the hotel to hire a structural engineer to draw up new plans for replacement skylights, inspected the work during construction and required the engineer to certify that the new skylights were installed the way he had intended, Kotroco said.

"It was basically a freak accident to begin with," he said. "But knowing what occurred, we were extra cautious."

Embassy Suites concluded that design and installation flaws were to blame for the collapse. Because all of the chain's 190 hotels feature similar skylights over wide atriums, the company had each property undergo an inspection "to make sure this never happens again," said Ray, the hotel spokeswoman.

At the Hunt Valley hotel, crews replaced sprinklers, pipes and two elevators that were damaged. They also repaired light fixtures, a waterfall and some handrails in the atrium, where a landscaped path winds across several ponds from the lobby to the hotel restaurant.

Ray said she did not know how much the project cost. A news release characterized it as "multimillion-dollar renovations."

At today's party, the hotel will donate $1,000 to local firefighters who responded to the collapse, Ray said.

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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