Health district weighs options over building


One assessment of the Southern Nevada Health District headquarters blames the building's crumbling condition on the lack of an internal support system to protect against strong winds and earthquakes.

The report suggests that someone missed something 50 years ago when it was constructed.

But Chris Knight, the city of Las Vegas' top building and safety official, says the building is just old.

"The building is 50 years old, and the examination (by the health district) was done 50 years after it was initially inspected by the building department," Knight said. "Did anything go wrong? No, the building just aged. Beyond that I can't comment."

Although city officials reject any blame for the condition of the building, they are accepting responsibility for determining whether it is safe. They soon will hire an outside structural engineering firm to determine whether the building should be condemned or repaired and reopened.

The discussion began last month when district officials closed the Shadow Lane building over structural concerns after a report they commissioned detailed that the structure, initially inspected and deemed safe to open by city building officials, lacked a "diaphragm" to keep it from collapsing.

On Thursday, the health district's board will weigh its options for purchasing or leasing a new building. The district's public health responsibilities include giving vaccinations, conducting blood tests and inspecting water, food and cleanliness in restaurants. It also makes sure workers meet certain industry standards when dealing in food service and child care.

INSPECTOR CERTIFICATION

Fifty years ago, inspectors examined the headquarters facility to make sure it conformed to code and building plans, Knight said. But inspectors back then did not have to be certified.

It wasn't until 2001 that the Legislature passed a bill requiring inspectors to be certified.

A structural engineer is responsible for checking anything on a building that carries or supports a load. It's unclear whether a structural engineer was required for projects 50 years ago. There was no engineer listed on city building records for the health district project in 1964 or for its expansion in 1973, which was pointed out in the district engineering report.

Knight said the internal support system issue will be examined once an engineer is contracted.

He also said the department has no plans to look at other buildings that were constructed in the city during that era.

At a Health Board meeting in April, engineers with Walter P. Moore and Associates, who studied the health district headquarters, said to repair, rebuild or replace the 60,000-square-foot building would require $16.2 million to $18.5 million in construction costs alone. That does not include temporary relocation or moving costs.

LEGAL LOGGERHEAD

The facility's closure is a point of contention for Clark County commissioners and health district officials snarled in litigation over funding and owning real estate. A recent District Court ruling favored the county's opinion that the health district cannot own property.

Terry Coffing, who represents the health district, disputes the accuracy and legitimacy of that order and said the lawsuit will probably end up in the Nevada Supreme Court.

The facility is in Las Vegas city limits and is under the control of the health district. There is no formal document that divides the responsibility for building upkeep and safety among Las Vegas, Clark County and the district.

Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer, said the closure is not a move to try and win court battles, citing his authority to keep district employees healthy and safe from a building on the brink of collapse.

"The decision was made totally on the credible report we got from a reputable engineer based on safety," Sands said. "I would not have put people through this trauma to shore up our position for a court case. We owe more to our community and our employees than making decisions based on something like that."

SCATTERED SERVICES

The legal deadlock has proven difficult for clients seeking services as they're sent to different locations throughout the valley. Employees have been forced to work elsewhere because there's not enough space for them in other district buildings.

For example, some of them are crowding into Henderson Public Health Center storage closets, bumping elbows as they train employees and deal with clients. A desk is stuffed into the corner of a room where files used to be kept.

Others were placed on paid administrative leave while expected to remain on call because their field equipment was stuck in the downtown building. They are now back to work.

Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, a health board member, said the discussion has been "muddied by so many factors."

"There's never really been a clear plan laid out for the board to make a decision," Scow said. "It's really difficult right now with the unknown lawsuits, and it will take some time to sort this out."

VACANT SPACE

In the meantime, officials in Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas have offered vacant space at little to no cost. Health district officials have made a push to lease or purchase the 26-year-old former CenturyLink building, near Valley View and Charleston boulevards.

Sands plans Thursday to present options to the Health Board for leasing or moving. He said the district has examined the vacant spaces, but it would cost the district more money to prepare the facilities for health district use, including the installation of refrigeration devices for storing vaccines.

"This is a really serious issue for public health in this community right now," Sands said.

"We owe it to the communities and clients we serve and to our employees to be able to move forward into a facility that allows the district to fulfill its important mission in the community."

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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