Lapses in talk seen to cause Harmon woes

The company responsible for ensuring that construction work on CityCenter's Harmon Tower was done properly Tuesday blamed communications breakdowns between different groups for problems at the project.

Representatives for Converse Consultants Southwest, however, said the company, which was serving as a quality assurance agency on CityCenter, is working to improve its own practices and is assisting Clark County's efforts to improve its construction inspection process.

"We learned no program has no weaknesses," Converse attorney Greg Gilbert said during a hearing Tuesday to determine whether Converse's status as a quality-assurance agency with the county should be revoked or changed. "Direct actions have been taken. I think it's safe to say consultants that have looked at this project have come to the conclusion that best practices are in place," but that something was missed.

A hearing officer on Tuesday heard testimony from county building and Converse officials on the company's status and how reinforced steel was placed improperly in the Harmon Tower at MGM Mirage's CityCenter project.

The hearing officer, Charles Thomas, was appointed by Ron Lynn, director of the Clark County Development Services Department. Thomas said he expected to have a recommendation on Converse's status by next week, although the county will not be required to accept his decision.

Thomas, who went through four binders and hundreds of pages of material before the hearing, said the case focuses on 62 daily reports filed by Converse inspectors in which they stated that all reinforcement work was completed properly and matched the construction plans filed with the county.

"Obviously, that was not accurate," Thomas said.

Clark County Deputy District Attorney Cliff Jeffers, who represented the county at the hearing, said county inspectors review daily reports from the construction site but they never received any reports indicating there were any problems with floors six through 20 on the tower.

MGM Mirage announced in January that the Harmon Tower's top 15 floors were being eliminated after officials determined it would be too expensive to replace reinforcing steel that was improperly installed by Pacific Coast Steel, a subcontractor on the CityCenter project.

Inspectors from Converse, which holds several third-party inspection contracts at CityCenter, failed to document the errors.

Gilbert said Converse isn't able to fully explain where the communication breakdown occurred because the company has limited access to documents held by CityCenter owner MGM Mirage, general contractor Perini Building Corp. and others on the project.

There were numerous representatives -- from the contractors, subcontractors, the county, Converse, the engineer on records and others -- on the CityCenter site during construction, Gilbert said.

"While I can't necessarily answer some of the questions because I don't have all the materials, it is safe to say there was a shortfall in communication that at some point impacted the way in which the project was built," Gilbert said.

Thomas questioned, however, whether changes in the way the firm worked during construction could have contributed to Converse inspectors not spotting the faulty work.

"It's disturbing to me that when you modify your plan, your quality-assurance plan, you have to make sure it's going to work," Thomas said. "I don't see the evidence that it was effective."

According to a Jan. 9 complaint filed by Lynn, reinforcing bar hooks and an unapproved tie system being used in the reinforcing steel were discovered around July 15. Additional problems were noticed by July 18.

Gilbert said Converse notified the county after project engineer Halcrow Yolles discovered the problem.

An Oct. 18 meeting between county and Converse officials and the two inspectors on the Harmon Tower, Scott Edberg and Joseph Glenn Laurente, determined the faulty work was not properly inspected and the "documentation of special inspections are materially incorrect and that a substantial lack of required supervision occurred on the site."

Gilbert said Tuesday that Laurente is still employed by Converse but is not doing concrete inspections. Edberg is no longer with the company.

Gilbert assured the hearing officer that the company has visually reinspected all areas of the project.

He said his company has also implemented the practice of rotating inspectors on projects to ensure compliance.

"It's a way of getting a fresh look, a new set of eyes," Gilbert said.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly or 702-477-3893.