“In the last couple of weeks he’s been noticing cracks in the wall,” Former Building Owner Tim Kant said.
Our KELOLAND News investigation has discovered that City Hall was warned about the load-bearing wall being taken down in the Copper Lounge minutes before it collapsed.
It turns out that there were large cracks in the wall in the loft occupied by the Fodness family in the Copper Lounge building that they brought to the attention of the construction company working below, several times, and nothing was done about it.
Immediately after the building collapsed, our investigation uncovered this picture that was posted by the company, Hultgren Construction, of them taking a wall out between the Copper Lounge and old Skelly’s space.
Then we learned that the City of Sioux Falls had not issued a building permit for major demolition work like that.
City Building Services had only issued a limited permit on Oct. 6 to remove interior finishes like floor covering, furnishings, ceiling tiles and the existing bar area.
Hultgren Construction was supposed to submit structural engineering and architectural reports to the city first and get approval to do the kind of work you see here, but according to the City, did not do that.
Hultgren Construction is the construction arm of Legacy Development. Legacy Development is owned by Aaron Hultgren, Norm Drake, Larry Canfield and Dr. Paul Cink.
KELOLAND News has followed the progress on many of the Legacy/Hultgren projects, from the most expensive loft in the state on Phillips Ave, to the DM & E building transformation.
Now we have uncovered new evidence of problems with Hultgren Construction when it came to the work it did on PAve and the current work it was doing on the Copper Lounge Building.
“We’ve actually been talking about this for a couple of weeks,” Kant said.
Tim Kant owned the now-collapsed building for a decade, before selling to Legacy Development. He still ran the Eastwold Smoke shop and tells KELOLAND News he knew something was wrong when the tenant of the loft upstairs told him there were inch wide cracks in his apartment walls after Hultgren Construction began demolition.
“In the last couple of weeks he’s been noticing cracks in the wall. And we actually reported it or he’s reported it to the contractor and they told him they were going to go up and check it out,” Kant said.
But Kant says Hultgren Construction never did. And that Friday morning he happened to be at City Hall on other business and told Building Services about the wall being taken out.
“I happened to say in passing, it’s really weird you’re letting them take this wall down inside of there and there’s cracks developing in the loft apartment upstairs and the guy at City Hall says yeah, it sounds like a structural problem to me,” Kant said.
Then he went back to his office and the unthinkable happened.
“It was ten minutes, fifteen minutes later,” Kant said.
Kant says it was no secret that the wall between the Copper Lounge and the portion of the old Skelly’s was coming down.
“Absolutely they were. They had the front door open all the time. Anybody could have seen that,” Kant said.
But City Building Official Ron Bell tells KELOLAND News that shouldn’t have been happening, not without the proper engineering reports submitted to the City first.
“There was a permit in order for them to get started, but to date there had been nothing submitted about the structural modifications that were occurring in the building,” Bell said.
Bell said that would have required an inspection and as you can see from the permit granted for the Copper Lounge building, there were no inspections.
“We had absolutely no idea what the status was of the project,” Bell said.
“The Copper Lounge and the old Skelly’s south space–we have guys in there right now who are removing all the material that was the Copper Lounge,” Hultgren said in an Oct. 14 Facebook Video.
On Oct. 14, Aaron Hultgren spoke to an audience at the work-sharing space, The Bakery, about taking down the load bearing wall.
“The structural engineer said that’s probably between 16 and 18 inches thick. We took a drill bit that didn’t seem to ever end and we wound up at 38 inches. Oh alright, this is slightly different than we planned and we’re going to have to re-engineer this and come up with new innovative ways to do that project now,” Hultgren said on Oct. 14th.
But now the project and most of the wall are in rubble and a construction worker lost his life.
“It’s funny that the front part of the building is standing. That part of the brick wall hasn’t been taken down yet. They started taking it down about 15 feet back,” Kant said.
The lead engineer for the project, Justin Christensen of RISE was working on designing a support system to replace the wall that was being taken down before the collapse.
However, Christensen tells KELOLAND News he was not consulted or involved with the demolition of the wall or temporary shorting for it.
He gave this statement to KELOLAND News:
RISE Structural Associates, Inc. was working with the project architect for the Downtown Lewis Drug project to provide design with respect to the new construction, which had not yet commenced. We were neither involved, nor consulted, during the demolition of the existing wall or design of the temporary shoring for the existing wall.
OSHA is investigating and met with the City Monday morning. The insurance companies involved are also conducting their own investigation.
KELOLAND News has learned that multiple complaints about Hultgren Construction came into City Hall when the company was working on the PAve Building
Sources tell us a City inspector had them tear out fresh sheetrock in the PAve building because he had not yet inspected the electrical work there.
This story has been updated to reflect the following correction:
A line regarding the partnership of Hultgren Construction has been removed from this story.