Freak, Historic Accident Caused Collapse of Columbia Building Says Demo Contractor

Blame it on the builders.

Breeze International, the firm demolishing a Manhattanville building for Columbia that collapsed yesterday and claimed one life, just released a statement addressing the cause of the accident. The firm’s investigation found that an unusual construction configuration appears to be the reason the building was destabilized and collapsed.

Because the structural beam the demo crew severed was not properly connected to the rest of the structure, when it was cut, everything else came down around it. Breeze points to a lack of construction drawings from when the building was built between eight and 10 decades ago as to why the unusual connection was not initially recognized.

In other words, this appears to be an unfortunate, if unavoidable, construction accident. A Department of Buildings spokesperson said the city would be releasing its own assessment shortly.

Breeze International’s full release is as follows:

First and foremost, everyone from the Breeze family would like to express our deepest heart felt condolences to the families of our deceased and injured workers.  These gentlemen have been with us for many years and our primary concern during the time of this terrible tragedy is with them and their families.

We did not respond yesterday to the requests for comments because we were first focused on addressing the needs of the families of our workers.  Secondly, our attention was required with the investigation that was being conducted by our engineers and the forensic engineers from the Department of Buildings to determine the cause of this terrible accident.  We have and will continue to completely cooperate in any way we can with the Department of Buildings and OSHA investigators.

The investigation conducted to date has led all of the parties involved to believe that this accident was the result of an unknown, unusual, latent condition in one of the structural beams.

In normal construction practice, structural beams running horizontally are joined together at a vertical column.  All of the beams and columns being removed by Breeze at this building were constructed in this manner.  The horizontal beam that failed, however, was not joined with the other beam at the column.  Instead, the beam being cut carried past the column and was joined to the other horizontal beam by a splice with bolts that was encased in 2 feet of concrete.  Because this was a century old building, the bolts in the splice apparently failed and could not carry the load that was transferred to the splice and the bolts when the beam was cut.  Once again, because of the age of the building, no structural drawings were available to show this unknown and latent condition buried in the concrete casing.  Neither Breeze nor its consulting engineers can recall ever encountering this type of a structural beam configuration at this type of a location.

Department of Buildings’ representatives have been conducting inspections of the site on a weekly basis and have been closely monitoring Breeze’s demolition activities, with our full cooperation.

The stop work order issued at this site on March 5 was rescinded only days after its issuance when the specifications that were supposedly violated were reviewed by a Department of Buildings supervisor.  This violation related to whether a particular type of rope was being used for the tie-off of a safety harness.  It was not related in any way to the structural beam issue that was apparently the cause of this accident.

The violation issued on March regarding Breeze’s alleged failure to notify the Department of Buildings of the commencement of demolition work was merely the result of a harmless clerical error as the Department was already actually aware of Breeze’s demolition work because Breeze is demolishing four other buildings on the same block as part of the same Columbia University project.  Once again, this violation had nothing to do with this accident.

Since 2009, Breeze has been exclusively run by Toby Romano, Jr.  His father, Toby Romano, Sr., is the individual that was the subject of the alleged criminal activities, however, the father has had no involvement with the company since 2009 and no involvement with this incident.

Breeze is a qualified, competent, responsible demolition contractor that has successfully and safely performed thousands of projects in New York City, many in locations far more congested and complex than this Columbia University project.  Unfortunately, this terrible accident was just that, an accident, one that was truly no one’s fault, but which, nonetheless, had tragic consequences for the Breeze family and our workers, about which we are all deeply saddened.

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC