Memorial Auditorium update

What exactly has been going on in Memorial Auditorium this year?

In the Fall, Concordia announced that Memorial Auditorium, which serves multiple purposes on campus, would be the subject of extensive structural analyses and possible closures.

Director of Facilities Management Wayne Flack explained what has been happening throughout the past few months concerning the building. While Memorial has never been deemed unsafe, Facilities Management has spent a considerable amount of time examining different elements of the building’s structural integrity over the past two years.

During the 2012-2013 school year, Flack and his colleagues noticed the basketball rims on the south side of the building were sinking. Oddly enough, the rims on the north side were rising. After taking measurements, they determined the south rims had sunk about an inch and a half; the north rims had risen the same amount.

Due to heavy snow loads and the structural integrity of the building, Memorial’s roof was flexing, Flack said.

Facilities Management began its examination of Memorial the following summer and engaged WJE, a structural engineering firm out of Chicago, to help with the process.

Flack explained that nine arches support the barrel-shaped roof of Memorial. The arches are made of smaller steel sections that were welded together when the building was built in 1951.

After examining the arches, they determined the welds were not done properly in 1951.

“The welds weren’t what we call a high-penetration weld,” Flack said. “They weren’t high-quality welds.”

While the building had stood for about 60 years without complications, Flack said, knowing Memorial had structural issues, they had to dig further.

“We had a building that wasn’t adequately built in 1951 so we had the obligation to fix it,” he said.

With the help of WJE, Facilities Management had solved one piece of the mystery. With around 120 welds in total, it will take well into Summer 2014 before they are all corrected, Flack said.

Though Facilities Management is addressing the faulty welds, Flack said the analysis of Memorial is not over yet. Even with the welds corrected, Memorial needs to be updated because the snow load model it was built according to isn’t sophisticated.

In 1951 snow load models made the assumption that snow falls uniformly on a building’s roof.

“That’s not reality. The snow falls differently,” Flack said. “We don’t just have to think about code, we have to think about reality.”

With the primarily northwest prevailing winds that blow through Concordia’s campus, snow usually accumulates on the south side of the building, he explained.

The issues with Memorial Auditorium became a reality for most people on campus when Facilities had to remove objects hanging from its ceiling. Lights, acoustic equipment and other objects weighed on the structure as dead load.

“Concordia College had put up a significant amount of dead load inside the building,” Flack said. “It was actually working against us.”

He added that they removed about 25,000 pounds of dead load from the ceiling of Memorial.

Unfortunately the dead loads will not be put back up after the welds are corrected. Flack said Facilities Management and WJE need to analyze more pieces of Memorial before they close the book on this issue.

“If we want to get the building back to its normal functionality, we have to figure out how we (can) modify this structure,” he said. “How can we make it stronger to put the dead loads back up and to make it so it can take a safe accumulation of snow on the outside?”

One suggestion for improving the building would be to strengthen the steel arches. An engineer from WJE believes he can do this by adding steel beams in the shape of an inverted “T” to anchor the arches and make them more stable, Flack said.

Even with this modification, there are still more pieces that have to be considered, from the concrete slabs that anchor the steel arches in the ground to the steel pins that allow the building to pivot.

“Essentially, what we have to do is analyze the whole structure from the very initial examination of the arch all the way down on the other end of it into the soil,” Flack said.

At this point, Facilities Management is not making any predictions about the building’s future. Using an engineer’s terminology, they are still in the discovery phase of this process.

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