DMN INVESTIGATES: Cowboys facility collapse: Project listed engineer who said he never saw construction

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by By BROOKS EGERTON and BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 2:13 PM

The engineer listed as responsible for design of the Dallas Cowboys' now ruined training facility said Tuesday that he had little to do with the project, worked for the builder only briefly and was hired to design small farm buildings.

"I was there just a few months," said Enrique Tabak, who now is employed by a different company in Canada. "They brought me in to build little farm buildings-sheds, agricultural applications."

Tabak also was listed as the engineer overseeing the design of a large warehouse in Philadelphia that collapsed in a February 2003 snowstorm, less than two months after opening. A Pennsylvania court has since ruled that design flaws were to blame.

Later in 2003, the Cowboys hired Tabak's employer at the time, Summit Structures, to build the training facility in Irving. It collapsed Saturday after being hit by high winds, permanently paralyzing a Cowboys employee and injuring 11 other people.

Irving officials have said no other buildings in the area suffered significant structural damage.

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple would not say Tuesday whether the team knew about the Philadelphia collapse when it hired Summit. He said his response to all questions related to the company would be a "blanket no comment."

Officials at the Dallas company that was general contractor for the project said Tuesday that they had little to do with building the facility. And officials at the firm listed as civil engineer said they played no role at all.

All of those linked to the project said primary responsibility rested with top management at Summit, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm called Cover-All Building Systems. Its spokeswoman did not respond to questions Tuesday.

Summit first registered to do business in the United States in 2002, public records show. Both of the collapses involved a Summit specialty: large buildings with lightweight steel frames, over which fabric is tightly wrapped. Cover-All previously was known primarily for building smaller agricultural buildings in that style.

Microburst

Summit president Nathan Stobbe said Monday that he would not speculate about what caused the Irving collapse, which is now under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A written statement from Stobbe noted the National Weather Service's conclusion that the area around the Cowboys facility was hit by a microburst-a downdraft of 70 mph or more.

The facility, which covered a full-size football field, was supposed to withstand 90-mph wind gusts, records show. "As is the industry standard, Summit Structures designs, engineers and builds to meet local building codes," company spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said Monday.

City records say that the lead contractor for the training facility was Manhattan Construction Co. of Dallas, which is also the general contractor for the new Cowboys stadium being built in Arlington.

But Bob Bowen, an executive vice president for Manhattan, said the company did little more than secure a building permit for Summit and other limited preparatory work. He said no one at Manhattan knew enough to address the project's design or construction.

"Looking back in hindsight, with this investigation that is under way, it has clearly caused confusion," Bowen said of the permit application. "We're not saying we didn't provide logistical support or coordinational support, but we didn't hold the contract or erect the structure."

Neil Dostie, the Manhattan employee who signed the application, could not be reached for comment.

On the application, Dostie listed the prominent Richardson firm Halff Associates as the project's civil engineer. Halff said Tuesday that it had nothing to do with the project and did not know why its name appeared on the application.

Roman Plugge, a Halff vice president, speculated that Halff was listed because of "our previous involvement" with the Cowboys since the 1980s.

The application lists Summit as the structural engineer, without naming Tabak or any other company official. There are blank spaces on the form where engineers are supposed to stamp their seal of approval.

The seals probably would have appeared on supporting documents that the city did not retain, said Gary Miller, Irving's planning and inspections director. Otherwise, he said, the city would not have approved the application or signed off on subsequent construction inspections.

Miller said the city was not required to retain the supporting documents.

Brenda McDonald, Irving's real estate and development director, said the city does not check applicants' assertions about companies' roles in a project.

"We take at face value the information that is provided on permit applications," she said.

Tabak's name and status as certifying engineer appear on a copy of building plans obtained by The Dallas Morning News. His signature and seal are absent there, too.

He was licensed to practice engineering in Texas at the time, state officials said Tuesday. His employer was listed as Cover-All, which is based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Officials said they could find no record that Cover-All had registered with the Texas Board of Professional Engineers, as required.

Replaced fabric

Tabak said he did not remember who drew up the plans for the Cowboys.

"It is so many years ago," he said. "I was so marginally involved."

He also indicated that he didn't know whether the facility was built according to the plans.

"I never went to Texas to see the construction," Tabak said.

Tabak said that the key Summit employee at the time was Jim Kumpula, who is also no longer with the company. The News has been unable to locate him for comment.

In 2003, Kumpula told a Canadian newspaper that the plastic-like, fire-retardant fabric his company used to cover buildings lasted longer than roofs on many conventional buildings. He also said that it was built to withstand hurricane-force winds.

Tests were done "by firing two-by-fours and ball bearings at the structure from a cannon," the Edmonton Journal reported.

But last year, Summit replaced the fabric on the Cowboys facility. Neither the company nor the team would elaborate.

Irving officials said Monday that the Cowboys never had them inspect any completed re-covering, as required by the city building code. The officials said they were aware the work was being done but never received word from the team that it was complete.

Public documents don't say how long the fabric was under warranty. The same material, called Duraweave, was also used in the Philadelphia warehouse and carried a 10-year warranty.

Summit built a training facility in 2003 for the New England Patriots, too, and replaced its fabric earlier this year.

The Patriots plan to "review every aspect of the facility" in light of the Cowboys disaster, spokesman Stacey James said.

Summit also has done construction in recent years for WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, just across the Texas line. WinStar said it, too, plans "a comprehensive safety audit."

A Summit competitor warned Cowboys official Bruce Mays in 2003 that Duraweave was "not designed for architectural applications" and was not used by any of the company's main rivals, according to a letter obtained by The News.

The Cowboys declined to comment on the warning, which came from Grant Cleverly of Universal Fabric Structures.

A Florida company, Intertape Polymer Group, developed Duraweave exclusively for Summit, according to Summit's Web site.

Intertape's Web site currently does not mention Duraweave. Its officials declined to comment Tuesday.

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