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(Enlarge) Moving crews remove furniture, files and other items from offices in “The Black Box,” a county government building deemed structurally unsafe. The Harford County Council offices, as well as those of the public works department and Cultural Arts Board, were moved to new locations Monday after two engineering reports showed some of the building’s floor joists are separating from its steel beams. (Matt Button | Aegis staff)

More than 70 Harford County government employees, including those from the county council office, were moved to other locations Monday after the government building at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air was deemed structurally unsafe.

Harford County Executive David Craig said he decided to relocate the council, public works department and Cultural Arts Board after two engineering reports done recently showed some of the building’s floor joists are separating from its steel beams.

The county bought the 25-year-old office building, often referred to as “The Black Box,” in 1996 for $1.4 million.

The county inspections department requested an analysis in October after employees reported cracking in the second-floor walls, and the first of two structural engineering evaluations was started in November, according to a press release.

A second analysis was finished in late December, and Craig said he received a letter Thursday the building could not be guaranteed to be safe.

“For the next two days, as we move people out of the building, obviously some things will be delayed,” Craig said Monday morning.

Employees were gathered at 220 S. Main St. Monday morning and given paperwork to fill out so they could later walk through the building with a risk management team and point out items they want to move to their new locations, he said.

Although a press release called the relocation temporary, Craig said he did not know when, or if, employees would be able to return.

“It’s going to be an expensive situation. The estimates right now are seven figures, to fix it,” he said. “When it’s that expensive, that means it’s going to take quite awhile.”

He did say at least one of the engineering evaluations, from late December, was optimistic about the building being repaired.

“The second [analysis] came in and said, ‘Yes, it can be repaired, but you can’t have employees in there while you do it,’” Craig said.

The council’s Tuesday meeting will be moved to the A. A. Roberty Building, at 102 S. Hickory Ave.

Council offices have been relocated to the second floor of 18 Office St.; the office of the director as well as bonding and permits have been moved to the second and third floors of 220 S. Main St.; traffic engineering has been moved to 1807 N. Fountain Green Road; and the water and sewer division has been moved to the county’s emergency operations center at 2220 Ady Road in Forest Hill.

Structural issues

Howard Schriefer, an engineer based in Havre de Grace, sent the county a critical interim report on Thursday saying he believes there is strain-related creeping in the welded connections of the floor trusses.

“The creep is apparently causing progressive dislocations which can result in failure with little warning,” Schriefer wrote. “I consider the structural stability of the building to be unsafe for occupancy.”

He recommended immediate stacked shoring of the floor slabs at truss midspans down to the ground.

The county is expecting a more comprehensive report next week, deputy inspections director Richard Truitt said.

McCon Engineering Inc., based in Kingsville, was more positive in its structural evaluation on Dec. 13, showing no visible evidence of any floor joists in a mode of failure or rupture.

“Continued use of the building is permitted for the short term, but measures should be taken to reinforce the floor joists,” structural engineer Peter McConaughy wrote in the report. “The building in general seems to be structurally adequate.”

Truitt said Monday there is no regular inspection of county buildings other than general “walk-throughs,” but the county did respond as soon as employees noticed cracks in the floor and walls.

“The building’s been evaluated a few times in the past,” Truitt said. “There was some remedial work to strengthen it, structural modification done to the floor when we moved in.”

Now, he said, “they are actually looking back at the original building plans.”

He said the county only has “some wide-ranging guesstimates” about what it would take to fix the building.

“We don’t know at this point. We don’t have any estimates at this point of the labor cost or material cost to fix it,” he said.

Not condemned

Truitt met Monday morning with Bel Air Town Administrator Chris Schlehr and town Public Works Director Randy Robertson, who are in charge of licensing the building.

Schlehr said the town has no plans at this point to condemn the building and is continuing to work with the county.

On Tuesday morning, county spokesman Ben Lloyd said everyone who works in the building was expected to be moved out by the end of the day and the other county agencies were very accommodating in giving up space.

“It doesn’t just affect the people in that building, it affects everybody. It’s going to be kind of cozy for a while,” Lloyd said.

The 212 South Main building was constructed by a private developer, Steve Hankins, who finished it in 1985. Property tax assessment records show the building had two other owners before the county acquired it in August 1996.

In 2010, the 29,025-square-foot building and its site were assessed at $5.1 million, about four times what the county paid for it.


user comments (1)


user voradtralundir says...

It is a waste of money and time to run a second and third inspection on a building to determine it is safe, especially when there are physical indications of failure and an investigative report that concludes there are defects. This is similar to the managerial mindset that saw the loss of two shuttles and 14 lives in the last 30 years for the US Space Program.


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