Irving, state officials at odds over building records retention after Cowboys practice facility collapse


by By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News / The Dallas Morning News s Ian McCann and Ray Leszcynski contributed to this report.

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:05 AM

In the wake of the Dallas Cowboys practice facility collapse, Irving and state officials disagree over whether cities should keep blueprints and building specifications for nonresidential buildings on file as long as the structures exist.

A worker inspects the collapsed Dallas Cowboys practice facility. The only planning document for it on file with the city is a general site plan showing the structure's location.

The city believes state law applies only to building permits and certificates of occupancy.

"I don't see, nor does our lawyer see, a retention schedule for blueprints and specifications," said Brenda McDonald, Irving's real estate and development director.

But their assessment directly contradicts how the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, which oversees state document retention requirements, interprets state law. State officials say the law also includes blueprints and specifications.

"The schedules are what they are," said Nan Pfiester, the state agency's manager of records management assistance.

Irving's retention of documents came into question this month after the Valley Ranch practice facility collapsed, paralyzing one man and injuring 11 others. In the days after the May 2 accident, Irving officials said they no longer had on file the documents that could have shed light on how the structure was designed and built.

The library and archives agency does not have any enforcement powers over the document retention schedules it oversees. State law criminalizes the intentional destruction of public documents. Investigations of those misdemeanor crimes are typically the responsibility of local district attorneys' offices.

Terri Moore, Dallas County's first assistant district attorney, said last week that "it's premature to comment" on whether her office is looking into Irving's retention of documents related to the Cowboys facility.

What's on file?

Irving officials declined several times this month to discuss the city's document retention practices after The Dallas Morning News reported the library and archives commission's assertions that such records should have been kept.

But Irving officials answered some questions last week after The News conducted a review of what documents are currently on file for eight randomly selected Irving properties and the rest of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters.

Those properties included, among other places, Exxon Mobil Corp. headquarters, the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas, Irving Mall and a Jack in the Box restaurant on Belt Line Road. According to an inspection of the records, there appeared to be no uniformity in what the city did and did not have on file.

The city provided documents such as permitting records and certificates of occupancy for seven of the properties. Records for one of those, the Jack in the Box, were more than 35 years old. But the city did not provide similar records for a 24 Hour Fitness center built in Valley Ranch in 2006 or a Fiesta supermarket built in 1999.

There was also no uniformity in planning documents such as blueprints, elevations, site plans and general specifications. There were few to none of those documents available for construction done before the mid-1990s on properties investigated by The News.

An Irving inspections department employee earlier this month said the city doesn't typically have on file building specs and blueprints from before 1995.

But there also appeared to be no uniformity in what documents were available for work done on structures since 2000, including work at Valley Ranch.

For instance, the city provided a floor plan for a renovation at Cowboys headquarters done in 2000 and floor plans for a 2002 renovation of the main building's lobby. A site plan and elevations of work done on the property's guard house in 2003 were available as were removal plans and basic plans for an addition to the headquarters from 2004.

But the only planning document available for the practice facility that collapsed was a general site plan showing where the building was erected in 2003.

Meanwhile, some plans for a 2003 renovation of Exxon Mobil's lobby were available. There were also plans for work done on the Circuit City store at Irving Mall one year after the Cowboys practice facility was built. And there were demolition, landscaping and site plans done at a car dealership one year before the Cowboys practice facility was built.

Other cities' practices

It was unclear why there were not more documents pertaining to the Cowboys' practice facility while there were construction and renovation documents for other Cowboys structures and other buildings from the same time period.

Irving issued statement last week about whether the city was planning new practices.

"To facilitate the retention of building plans going forward, the city will implement a requirement for electronic plan submittal," McDonald said in the statement.

Other cities' retention practices vary. Mesquite officials said their building plans date back to the early to mid-1990s. Garland officials said they keep plans permanently.

Plano's chief building official Selso Mata said although that city has a policy of retaining blueprints and specs for 10 years, in practice it typically keeps them forever.

Mark Hightower, Richardson's chief building official, said his department keeps archives of building plans going back to at least the 1960s.

Staff writers Ian McCann and Ray Leszcynski contributed to this report.