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Walker wants speedy safety review of buildings after garage collapse

Investigators look over where the facade of the ODonnell Park parking structure that collapsed last Thursday in Milwaukee. (Photo by Joe Yovino)

Investigators look over the part of the O'Donnell Park parking structure facade that collapsed last Thursday in Milwaukee. (Photo by Joe Yovino)

By Paul Snyder

A safety audit of Milwaukee County buildings in the wake of a deadly collapse at the O’Donnell Park parking garage could take too long, said County Executive Scott Walker.

“I’m not against an audit,” Walker said Tuesday. “If they want another check and balance, that’s fine. I just want to figure out the best way to make the case that our facilities are safe.

“Instead of doing an audit, it might be better to just bring in a consultant team now to look at buildings.”

Walker said he’s working with the county’s Architectural and Engineering Division in the Transportation and Public Works Department to determine in the next few weeks which county buildings need inspection and which need upgrades.

The county inspection work follows a partial collapse Thursday at the O’Donnell Park parking garage that killed 15-year-old Jared Kellner, Greenfield. On Friday, Lee Holloway, chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, requested a maintenance audit of all county buildings.

Holloway was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Harold Mester, the County Board’s public information officer, said the audit could take several months but is the appropriate route for legislative oversight.

Jerome Heer, the county’s director of audits, said the department is just beginning to work on the details of the request. He said the county has about 650 buildings, but an audit likely would focus on the most frequently used buildings, including the courthouse, transit structures, human service buildings and General Mitchell International Airport.

Heer said he does not yet know how long the audit will take, how much it will cost or how many buildings need review.

“It’s a matter of prioritizing what to look at first,” he said, “and what kind of records are already available.”

Some county records have maintenance reports, Heer said. But a 2009 county report demonstrated limitations with the software used to chart maintenance work at various county parks, he said.

If the maintenance reports used limited software, county staff members might have to reassess certain structures, Heer said.

“We may end up having to bring in extra help,” he said.

The county has a staff of 16 auditors, Heer said, and most of them are tied up with other projects. If the county uses consultants, it will cost taxpayers, he said, though he could not say how much without knowing the scope of the work.

The county is projecting a $6.6 million end-of-year deficit, which will rise if Milwaukee County hires consultants, Heer said.

“I don’t think the County Board would say no, if that’s what we needed,” he said.

Walker said he would rather spend the money for an immediate public works report and upgrades, rather than waiting for a report months later that likely would provide the same information.

“If there’s any deferred maintenance posing health or safety issues, we’d act on it immediately,” he said. “If we need extra money, then we look at cutting back other programs to balance the budget.”

One comment

  1. This is why safety inspections are extremely important when building a garage.

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