A 15-year-old boy was killed and two others injured when a 30-foot concrete panel detached from a parking garage and fell in Milwaukee, Wisconsin yesterday afternoon. The incident occurred just after 4 p.m. at a garage located underneath a park across from the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Officials say that the decorative concrete slab fell from the garage’s façade onto a road leading out of the structure.
Police closed off major streets in the surrounding area to make way for emergency vehicles. The incident created massive backups in the area, part of the lakefront location of an 11-day music festival known as Summerfest that had opened earlier Thursday afternoon.
The Fire Department’s Heavy Urban Rescue Team and truck-mounted cranes were dispatched to the garage. Firefighters used saws to cut through the slab and free the boy who was pinned underneath.
The parking garage has been a source of controversy and corruption ever since it opened in the early 1990s. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the $30-million, 1,250-space municipal parking garage was built underneath O’Donnell Park. Shortly after it opened, cracks began to appear throughout the structure because the weight of the land above was more than it could bear.
In May 1991, construction crews worked to lighten the weight of the land atop the garage by removing tons of dirt. They also repaired and reinforced the structure’s steel and concrete frame.
The county fired Jordan Miller, the architect who was hired to build the project, shortly after the garage’s defects started to appear. An investigation by the Milwaukee Journal revealed that Miller’s firm wasn’t on the original list of finalists to build the structure. The firm was added to the list by the county parks director Dave Schulz.
According to the Milwaukee Journal, “Miller’s firm was selected even though the county was suing it over a defective roof design at the Mental Health Complex in Wauwatosa, a lawsuit that ended with a $700,000 judgment in the county’s favor.”
In 1992, the county sued five other firms that worked on the project. Repairing the garage cost the county #3.4 million.
After Thursday’s collapse, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway issued a statement saying that the county had to address deferred maintenance at county-owned parks and buildings. He also requested a safety review of all county facilities.
“Earlier this year, stone chunks fell off of the Milwaukee County Courthouse,” Holloway said. “We are also dealing with numerous structural problems at the Mental Health Complex. Now, today, we are dealing with a terrible tragedy.”
According the Milwaukee Journal, engineers familiar with the structure were “just as surprised as anyone else” that the concrete facing dislodged and fell off. Officials continue to investigate the garage to determine the cause of the accident and reassess the structure’s overall safety.
The two people who were injured in the collapse were being treated in Milwaukee hospitals and were expected to survive their injuries.