Cracks discovered in panels at satellite jail in Urbana

Cracks discovered in panels at satellite jail in Urbana

URBANA — A newly discovered structural problem with the 18-year-old Champaign County satellite jail is presenting county officials with another jail-related headache.

Long, exterior cracks in most of the large precast concrete panels present "a latent structural defect" that needs to be repaired, structural engineer John Frauenhoffer of Engineeering Resource Associates Inc. of Champaign told the county board's facilities committee Tuesday night.

"Whether you hire me or somebody else," Frauenhoffer told the committee, "I think what's important is that you don't let too much time go by before you get this underway. It's going to take some time to get it done. I can't tell you how much longer you have.

"You might not get movement for some years, and you might get movement next week."

But facilities committee members, who last month recommended a large-scale sheriff's operations master plan study costing as much as $185,000, Tuesday night opted not to hire Frauenhoffer's firm to study the issue.

Instead, they said they hoped the assessment of the building's structural integrity could be included in the master plan study OK'd last month.

"If we commissioned a $150,000-plus study to see if the jail needed to be added on to, we should see if the jail is structurally strong enough to be added on to," said Champaign Democrat Josh Hartke. "I would hope that this is covered under that study. I hope it's seriously looked at, and then if we address that as a whole, it would be far more efficient."

Stan James, the Rantoul Republican who heads the committee, bemoaned that the cracks hadn't been discovered earlier.

"Those cracks didn't happen yesterday or last night. It's a shame that we pay the staff to maintain these buildings, and yet this got by everybody," James said. "And now it's an emergency, and our problem is that we have a list of things — roofs, chillers, generators — that we keep putting on the back burner, and our buildings are deteriorating."

Frauenhoffer said the approximately 10-foot by 30-foot concrete panels may not need to be replaced, only repaired and sealed.

"That's why they need to do an investigation," he said. "Then they'd be able to determine whether they can be fixed. It's likely they can be fixed, but it wouldn't be prudent to send a contractor in there until you knew it could be fixed."

The biggest problem with the satellite jail structure, he said, is that a steel connection between the bottom of the concrete panels and the building's foundation is corroding and causing cracks in the panels.

"In order for this to be stable," Frauenhoffer told board members during an inspection of the jail's exterior walls, "and to carry the gravity loads and the wind loads, all of those connections have to be in place. The problem is that if this crack is indicative that that connection is corroded, then you're losing the connection. And if you lose the connection, then there's nothing between the building and the foundation.

"If you get movement in the panel due to heavy wind loads, it could cause collapse."

Frauenhoffer called the building's structural design "a house of cards."

"I will guarantee that in the next 10 years you'll be reading about this in the newspaper," he said. "You can't take a structural steel connection, bury it in the ground and expect it not to corrode, particularly when you've got groundwater like in Champaign-Urbana."

The building was designed by HRA/HLM architects, a firm that is no longer in business, according to county facilities director Dana Brenner.

But the decision to add the steel connections apparently was made during the time the building was under construction, Frauenhoffer said.

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787 wrote on August 06, 2014 at 10:08 am

It would appear that the County Board has a talent for finding the worst qualified architects and contractors.  

Just look at the history of the downtown jail, the nursing home, and now the satellite jail.

Maybe they can hire Otto Baum to fix the cracks.  With their history on the nursing home, that'll only lead to more headaches.