By Abigail Sterling and Max Darrow
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Construction of a patch for the Leaning Millennium Tower of San Francisco stopped at the end of August because the fix actually sank the tower even more. Now it looks like some of this damage could have been avoided.
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Construction is partially back on track with test drilling underway this week. Engineers planned to only drill two casings with a modified technique that they said will cause less vibration.
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“Millennium Partners wanted to close the deal,” said Robert Pyke, a geotechnical engineer and lead critic of the so-called “perimeter pile upgrade”. He says the $ 100 million plan to shore up the sinking tower should have been stopped months before it was.
“Certainly by the end of June it was evident that there had been further settlement as a result of the casing and piles being installed,” said Pyke.
KPIX asked him to review engineers’ logs and internal emails obtained by KPIX 5. A graph produced by the team shows that the accelerated sinking began in mid-May, but work on the project has continued. continued in June and July.
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In a July 29 email, the Engineering Design Review Team (EDRT) hired by the city to oversee the project warned building officials: “The design team suggested to the 301 Mission Homeowners Association that the installation of 36 inch street enclosures be put on hold ”, but…“ this suggestion was not acted upon and the project continues to move forward. “
On August 4, Chief Engineer Ron Hamburger finally confirmed that “the project has imposed a voluntary moratorium” on the installation of 36-inch enclosures.
But drilling continued to install smaller 24-inch piles until August 23, when the Millennium Tower general manager announced a pause in all construction for two to four weeks.
“I thank EDRT for exerting the necessary pressure, but they shouldn’t have had to. Any responsible engineer should have stopped, as I said at the end of June, ”said Pyke.
Pyke believes that the fact that construction continued for two months caused more damage.
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“Still a half to three quarters of an inch of settlement,” said Pyke.
He says continued drilling may have even exacerbated a sewerage problem in the luxury skyscraper, described in an Aug. 26 email as “the kitchens on the third floor are experiencing traffic jams.”
“Even a small change in slope could disrupt the plumbing, both sewage and sewage,” Pyke said.
In a statement to KPIX, Chief Engineer Ron Hamburger admitted that part of the sinking and tipping could have been avoided by stopping construction earlier. In a letter to building officials, he also admitted that the new test drilling that began this week could cause even more shipwreck. However, he insists that none of this will affect the safety of the building.
But one thing is certain: all the problems at 301 Mission Street seem to be having an impact on property values. We found ten 10 condos listed for sale, all at discount prices. Zillow estimates that a luxury condo listed for $ 1.75 million was worth about $ 1 million more just five years ago.
Some units have been on the market for months. Unit 14H, for a windfall of $ 899,000, has been for sale for almost a year.
Pyke believes concerns about property values could be one of the reasons the Millennium Tower Association has pushed to continue the work.
“This would suit existing owners and the homeowners association because once construction is complete and construction is complete, there is no doubt that property values will increase,” said Pyke.
The Millennium Tower Association which represents the owners has yet to comment. Interestingly though, we found an online presentation that Hamburger did in February for students at the University of Minnesota that seems to confirm that real estate values are at the heart of it all. In it, Hamburger points out: “There is no structural reason that the building needs to be improved. The owners needed a major renovation to “upgrade” their units. “
No real estate expert was ready to report this story. But one of them accessed current data for us which shows 13 building listings have either expired or been taken off the market since January.
Ron Hamburger’s full statement to KPIX 5:
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“While some of the settlement and tipping that has occurred in recent months could have been avoided by stopping construction earlier, neither the safety nor the functionality of the building was affected and the project team gathered valuable information. on the causes of this settlement as construction progressed. This puts us in a better position to mitigate these effects as we move forward with the project. On the day I recommended that the installation of the 36 inch piles stop, the Millennium Tower HOA asked the contractor to stop, per my recommendation.