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Engineer Raises Concerns About Irish Cultural Center

Jeanette Lenoir, WIBX

Utica, NY (WIBX) - The group in charge of the Irish Cultural Center being built at 623 Columbia Street in Utica is responding to concerns raised about the structural integrity of the future center. In August 2011, the head of Zangrilli Engineering–the company hired to design the building’s steel framework–wrote a letter to the Department of State, Division of Codes Director, Thomas Romanowski, raising concern about the structural integrity of the building. In the letter, Albert Zangrilli writes:

“After I completed the design of the girders and columns and established the column loads, I noticed that the spread footings appeared to be too small to support the column loads. I also noticed that the basement walls and piers did not have the minimum reinforcing required by ACI. I contacted Mr. Ehre about this and told him that the small footings and improper reinforcing are serious problems which could result in a structural failure. I also told him that he must notify the owner and appropriate officials about these problems and that they must be corrected before any other work is done. I’ve enclosed a copy of my letter to Mr. Ehre. Mr. Ehre told me the owner was going to proceed with the project. It sounded like the owner was not going to make any corrections. I am writing to you about this situation because I am very concerned about the structural integrity of this building.”

Although concerns were raised back in August of 2011, Mayor Robert Palmieri says he hasn’t been informed of any foundation problems with the center. “Absolutely, it’s brand new to me–I had no idea, no one has notified me. And, as far as the building aspect of it, no one from my department has kept me abreast, or even said there was a question,” he said. Palmieri goes on to say, “My concern would be at this point, if there was something that has come out through the Irish Cultural Center and it was given to any of my codes building department, than I would look at it at this point, but I have not seen anything at this point that would demonstrate that the integrity of the foundation is in question.”

Yesterday, after numerous attempts for an update on the project went unanswered by the center’s Executive Director, Matthew Sullivan and other board members, the lead consulting engineer for the project–Boulder Consultants, headed by Donald Ehre–released a statement on behalf of the entity in charge of the project, explaining the concern brought up by Zangrilli.

The statement in part reads:

“In early August 2011, Mr. Al Zangrilli, P.E. of Zangrilli Engineering was retained to design the building’s steel framework. His office was provided with a progress set of the building’s design plans. At this time the foundation for the Cultural Center was under construction and several field changes had been made by the contractor. These field changes provide some additional strength to the foundation over the original design. These field changes were not reflected in the plans provided to Mr. Zangrilli.

As part of the design work, CME Associates, Inc. was also retained to perform an analysis of the existing soil. While the soil for several feet below the foundation was found to have adequate strength, a soil layer below that was found to be less than ideal. When provided with the geotechnical report, Mr. Zangrilli expressed his concerns in writing that the Cultural Center’s construction not proceed further until this new information was taken into account. We value Mr. Zangrilli’s input and expertise, and we have and will continue to take his concerns into account as design and construction work continues on the project. It is not uncommon for changes/modifications to be incorporated that during the design/construction process when specific unforeseen conditions are encountered in the field with respect to soil, drainage, slopes, etc., and these require mitigation while the work progresses.”

The statement concludes: “The final design plans will be complaint with the New York State Building Code and will be adjusted, as necessary, to address conditions found in the field, as required by this code. Any suggestion that the building will not be designed and built to code is erroneous.”

In the meantime, construction remains stalled.

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