OKLAHOMA CITY —
“(At Briarwood) we found one horizontal steel beam that was designed as a support beam for masonry over the entrance to two classrooms,” Ramseyer said. “But there was no connection from the beam to the masonry, anywhere. No connection. The beam was just sitting there on the walls. Only gravity held it in place. Obviously, that’s not being built to code.”
Ramseyer, director of the university’s Donald G. Fears Structural Engineering Lab, is one of the authors of the ASCE-SEI report. With support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ramseyer was part of an eight-person ASCE group allowed to examine and photograph rubble from the school.
He said debris from the Briarwood site showed many of school’s walls were built using only 4- to 8-inch vertical overlaps of steel reinforcement — rebar — inside the cinder blocks, rather than 20- to 30-inch overlaps called for by the International Building Code for reinforced masonry.
Bill Coulbourne, a Delaware engineer who is the principal author of the report, drew similar conclusions.
“There were places in the building that failed that we should have seen more resistance in the building elements,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of steel in any of the masonry walls. There were not very long splices between metal reinforcing bars.”
Oklahoma City architect John Joyce, a principal with Engineering Solutions and also a member of the review team, told the newspaper the “obvious thing” was trouble with the concrete masonry walls. In January, he told Oklahoma City television station KFOR that stronger construction could have saved lives.
“They may not have needed a full-blown FEMA shelter to save those kids. Maybe they just needed it a little bit better than what it was,” he said.
Plaza Towers, built in 1965, had its debris removed before the engineering team had a chance to examine it. Ramseyer reviewed photographs of the damage provided by storm victims’ families and media organizations and said it showed problems similar to Briarwood’s.