Construction is moving forward as planned after Hammond officials issued a stop work order last week claiming the city’s building department was not properly notified after a 35-foot-tall wall collapsed last month at the School City of Hammond’s new school construction project behind the current Hammond High School.
City officials issued the order on the project last week after they say a plumbing inspector working for the city happened upon the fallen wall in a regular inspection of the project on July 31.
The inspector then notified Hammond Building Commissioner Bob Vale who contacted project managers at The Skillman Corp. on Aug. 1 with the stop work order to “figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The $115 million project, funded through referendum support, is a total of 340,000 square feet and will house academic wings, two gymnasiums and a pool complex for Hammond’s new secondary school, scheduled for completion in fall 2021.
School and Skillman officials said they first learned on July 22, a Monday, of the collapse of the 52-foot-long wall corridor separating what is to become a theater area and high school gymnasium.
Skillman Senior Vice President Scott Cherry said no one was on site or injured at the time of the collapse and that engineers are exploring the role strong storms that blew over the weekend before may have played in the structural integrity of the wall.
“The weather either caused it or compounded it,” Cherry said. “We don’t know yet.”
He said the area surrounding the wall was immediately sealed off and the entire construction site was shut down for at least a day after the rubble was first discovered to allow engineers to assess the damage.
A roughly 10,000-square-foot area immediately surrounding the fallen wall remains quarantined pending the results of an engineering report to determine the cause of the wall’s failure.
Cherry said that motion-activated cameras were triggered by wind gusts the weekend in question in July, but that the cameras were not positioned in place to capture the wall falling.
In an interview with The Times, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. expressed frustration with Skillman’s delay in notifying the city of the collapse.
“The worst day of my life would be if someone was hurt because of the negligence of a contract,” McDermott said. “I don’t think it’s very common at all for this to happen. They should’ve taken the proper precaution and informed everybody.”
Skillman did not contact the city because the team’s immediate focus was to secure the site and work with the school city, engineers and insurance teams to evaluate the damage, Cherry said.
“Right away we get into recovery mode,” Cherry said. “When a wall falls like that, our first instinct is safety. Let’s double check everything on the site.”
School City of Hammond Superintendent Scott Miller said, after a Tuesday night school board meeting, that failure to contact the city was not intentional and that the school city would immediately reach out to the Hammond building department with any future issues.
“From the school city’s point of view, we had never experienced something like that,” Miller said. “It just didn’t immediately register that we would need to call the building inspector.”
Vale, the city building commissioner, said in his past experience it’s been professional courtesy to reach out to the city about structural failures. He said the stop work order issued Aug. 1 was lifted late in the day Monday after a team of engineers and a masonry specialist visited the site.
“We don’t have any concerns moving forward,” Vale said. “We feel comfortable everything is being run right.”
Although Skillman still awaits the results of engineering reports, Cherry said the wall collapse should not have a major effect on the project’s schedule. If anything, he said, it’s heightened awareness on the project.
“The positive is it happened on the weekend and nobody got hurt,” Cherry said. “You have a heightened awareness, you’re double-checking and triple-checking things. We’re being very conservative.”