Report: Design Changes Preceded Atlantic City Trop Garage Collapse

Wed May 05, 2004 - Northeast Edition

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) Engineers blame faulty installation of concrete floors for a casino garage collapse that killed four construction workers, and said the shoddy work followed design changes that were intended to save time and money, a newspaper reported April 25.

Connections of prefabricated steel reinforcement rods and a beam in garage floors to six key outer columns left the Tropicana Casino and Resort garage in a sorely unstable condition, The New York Times reported, citing engineers for the contractor and others who studied the designs and debris.

The collapse killed four workers and injured 20 others when the top five floors of the 10-story structure caved Oct. 30.

The Atlantic County prosecutor said a criminal inquiry of the collapse has begun.

Officials with Egg Harbor Township-based Fabi Construction Co., which was overseeing construction of the concrete floors, declined to comment to the newspaper about the accident’s cause.

General contractor Keating Building Corp. of Philadelphia and Aztar Corp., the Phoenix-based owner of Tropicana, also declined to discuss details of the collapse. Keating did release a statement saying, “Every decision made was intended to deliver the highest quality product possible.”

Keating also denied that revisions to the design had been intended to save time and money, saying the project was on time and on budget. Officials with Fabi have said a snowy 2002-03 winter in Atlantic City forced the project to start late.

According to the Times, at least four engineers who have examined debris collected from the site — including the engineer who originally designed the structure — said key steel connections were lacking, making it impossible to shoulder the staggering weight of the concrete floors.

The engineers also suspect there was insufficient shoring of just-poured floors, something laborers at the site had complained about weeks before the collapse.

“There is no visual evidence of the expected reinforcement between the slab and the columns,” said W. Gene Corley, a structural engineer who led investigations into collapses at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center. Corley is now an expert on behalf of victims of the Tropicana collapse.

Initially, on the lower levels, ironworkers threaded reinforcing steel rods from the concrete floor slab into the six columns at the edge of the garage.

Under the revisions, prefabricated 8-ft.-wide, cage-like mats were substituted for the rods, and an underlying support beam was made wider but shallower.

Stephen V. DeSimone, president of Manhattan-based DeSimone Consulting Engineers, the structural engineer on the project, said he believes the problem occurred in the execution of the design, not the design itself.