|By Joan Whitely, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 25, 2009--Converse Consultants won't be able to take on new local jobs for up to six months, but it can continue the jobs it already has under way, according to the penalty that county building official Ron Lynn proposed this week for Converse's improper work at the Harmon Hotel at CityCenter.
Greg S. Gilbert, a lawyer for Converse, said Friday afternoon that his client had not decided whether to appeal Lynn's decision, which is tougher than the penalty recommended by Charles Thomas, who was the outside hearing officer for the county's investigation into Converse's part in the Harmon Hotel debacle.
Lynn specified that Converse cannot do third-party special inspections of any sort of construction work, while Thomas suggested that Converse be suspended only from new jobs to inspect reinforced-concrete work. Third-party inspections are a key part of Converse's business.
Lynn, the county's director of Development Services, said he expects several outcomes from the remedy he proposes.
"Any time you have to undertake a disciplinary action," he explained Friday afternoon, "the people under discipline learn what needs to be done so their systems are better. And it puts the industry on notice, these things are to be taken seriously. You need to look at your own programs."
In addition to suspending the firm, Lynn also ordered Converse inspector Glenn Laurente to remain suspended until he takes and passes a structural-plans review class approved by the county for inspectors. Laurente must also retake, and pass, the inspector certification exam for reinforced concrete. The approved status of Scott Edberg -- the other Converse inspector who OK'd improper work at the Harmon -- should be revoked, according to both Lynn's and Thomas's proposals.
Gilbert said Friday that Converse was still digesting Lynn's letter Wednesday detailing the decision.
"We're receiving it and processing it now, too. We obviously haven't made any determination on what the client is going to do." By the building code, Converse Consultants has 10 days in which to appeal.
Thomas wrote in a letter Friday to Melissa Orien, who is another lawyer for Converse, that its "Special Inspectors (at the Harmon) were not closely audited by their immediate supervisors." He also wrote that the particular type of steel reinforcement at stake "either appears to be outside the capabilities of the Special Inspectors certification or the inspections were not made."
The Harmon problem, uncovered last summer, led to a major downsizing of the tower, which is a key visual anchor at the corner of the Strip and Harmon Avenue. Workers deviated from Harmon plans numerous times as they placed and connected metal bars that are imbedded in concrete to strengthen it. Converse inspectors did not catch the deviations, which occurred on many floors, thus reducing the Harmon's ability to withstand sideways forces such as high wind or earthquake.
In light of weak sales of condominiums to be located in the Harmon's upper floors, CityCenter owners -- which include MGM Mirage -- opted, in early 2009, to make lesser fixes to the Harmon, and do away with its unbuilt 20 or so highest floors. The revision means the Harmon will miss its original opening date. The rest of CityCenter is slated to open by the end of 2009.
Both Lynn and Thomas recommended that Converse be allowed to continue working on its present jobs.
"We didn't want to enter into the morass of (interrupting) contractual obligations," Lynn said. Converse has numerous other inspection contracts for work taking place at CityCenter's other towers, lowrise buildings and garages.
Both men also recommended that Converse Consultants be suspended from the county's list of approved "quality assurance" agencies for up to six months. The suspension can end sooner, if the county approves all repairs to the substandard work at the Harmon Hotel -- and Converse's inspections of the repairs. Also, a review of all other Converse work at CityCenter must meet county standards.
According to Lynn, the action he recommends goes beyond a slap on Converse's wrist. "Every (new) job is important," especially in a slow economy, he said.
If Converse's suspension begins in late July and runs for six months, it will finish in late January. In that interim, according to Lynn, Converse reps cannot even sign contracts to do future inspection work, if the contract requires the firm to be, at the time of signing, on the county's approved list of "quality assurance agencies" that provide third-party special inspectors.
In previous actions, the county has assessed, and collected, fees from Edberg, Laurente and Converse for having to investigate the Harmon work.
In February, the county also ordered CityCenter to do comprehensive testing of all structural components of any other buildings at the same project that were inspected by Converse. The county must review, and approve, all those test results before Converse can regain a spot on the approved list, Lynn emphasized.
Contact reporter Joan Whitely at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0268.
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