Three Milwaukee County Board members are using an accident at General Mitchell International Airport to further their demands to make public any discussions of building inspections.
“This airport thing is unbelievable to me,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic.
On Saturday, for the second time in five weeks, a person was injured by a falling piece of a county-maintained building. The incident took place in Concourse D of the airport just after 1 p.m. when a 14-pound piece of an interior wall fell and struck a teenage traveler, said Pat Rowe, airport spokeswoman, Monday.
According to a report from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, a 17-year-old from Grand Rapids, Mich., was sitting at a computer workstation near Gate D-53 about 12:45 p.m. looking at text messages and eating lunch when a 36-inch-by-18-inch piece of the wall fell and broke across his head.
Rowe said the material was stamped to look like 6-inch, square tiles and was affixed to the wall when Concourse D was built in 1990. Airport medical staff examined the traveler, who sustained a cut on the head, but he declined further treatment and boarded his intended plane, she said.
Rowe said airport maintenance staff immediately examined all other similar decorative wall pieces in the concourse and found no additional problems.
Saturday’s incident was the third time in the past six months that a part of a county-maintained building broke off and fell to the ground. On June 24, a 15-year-old Greenfield teen was killed and a woman was badly injured when a piece of the facade fell off the O’Donnell Park parking structure. In March, a piece of the cornice of the county courthouse fell off, though no one was injured.
After the O’Donnell Park tragedy, Milwaukee County awarded a contract to Milwaukee-based Graef-USA for facade inspections of 103 county buildings. County Executive Scott Walker said Monday that Graef’s bid was selected from 19 responses to the call for emergency bids, and the Graef team is on schedule to complete the inspections by the end of August.
Inspectors have found no major issues in the 66 facades reviewed so far, Walker said.
However, inspectors were concerned about cracking over a public entrance at the Fond du Lac Transit Station, 3203 W. Fond du Lac Ave, Walker said. That entrance has been closed to the public while inspectors take a closer look. Walker gave no estimate as to when it might reopen.
Engineers also this week will inspect a concrete silo at the Milwaukee County Historical Society’s Trimborn Farm, 8881 W. Grange Ave., Greendale.
Of the 66 buildings reviewed, 40 were reported as having “few or minor issues” and 26 were evaluated as “needing more inspection,” Walker said. Those “needing more inspection” were looked at more closely, with inspectors checking architectural plans to make sure they matched the design.
Because the piece of Concourse D that fell off was on an interior wall, it would not have been subject to the ongoing inspections that resulted from the O’Donnell Park incident, Walker said.
Walker, a Republican who is running for governor, emphasized the inspections the county is doing on facades of county buildings is not related to what happened on Saturday at the airport.
“They have since had their maintenance crews at the airport look at the entire concourse and the rest are secured,” Walker said. “So they don’t know why exactly that particular one came off.”
Supervisors Chris Larson, John Weishan and Dimitrijevic are working to make public any discussion about the facade inspections that happen in a closed session portion of the County Board meeting on Thursday. Right now, a closed session is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., to be followed by the regular open board meeting at 9:30 a.m.
The three supervisors said Monday the incident at Mitchell is additional proof that Walker has deferred maintenance of county buildings for too long and now things are starting to fall apart.
Walker “can stand there now and say, ‘I’ve allocated this and that,’ because he is reacting to a tragedy,” Dimitrijevic said. “But his record speaks for itself — he has never been interested in buildings assessments.”
Dimitrijevic said Walker vetoed a budget measure for $150,000 for buildings assessments, and he removed from that budget money for a structural engineer.
“I’m saying I think we could have prevented some of these things,” she said.
Weishan said the recent incidents, two involving injuries and one a death, are too many.
“How many more wake-up calls do you need?” he said. “How big a check are we going to have to write the fourth time?”
Walker deflected such criticism.
“What we have found thus far from the inspections (at O’Donnell Park),” he said, “is that no normal inspection would have found any reason to believe that those panels weren’t installed the way they were originally intended to.”