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UPDATE: No Safety Issues Associated with Forestry Building Cracks, Penn State Reports

on September 12, 2010 9:38 AM

The cracks that have developed on lower levels of the Forest Resources Building pose no safety issues for its occupants and visitors, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said last week.

In fact, the structural damage at the five-year-old building is limited to the fractures discovered in some floor slabs, Powers said.

Responding to several questions from StateCollege.com, Powers explained more details and back story behind the cracks, which began appearing about a year after building construction ended. Part of the $30.5 million building will close for repair work next semester.

Power said the cracks have slowly gotten worse since they first emerged in 2007, affecting some basement- and ground-level floors. "These cracks are a result of expanding fill material that was used during construction," she wrote in an e-mail message.

"The fill (beneath the building) contained shale with some pyrite material in it," Powers went on. "When the pyrite is exposed to air and water, a chemical reaction happens."

And that, she said, causes the formation of gypsum crystals. The formation of those crystals causes the fill to expand and push upward, causing the floor slabs to crack, Powers noted.

"A number of structural engineers of safety experts have looked at the building over the past few years," she wrote. They found that a floor slab pushed upward in the building's west wing had caused cosmetic damage, "and these issues have been repaired," Powers continued. "The cracks in the floor could have been trip hazards, so they were smoothed out."

She said problematic fill under the west wing will be replaced as part of expected repairs, and "that will correct the cracking" there. The west-wing work has been scheduled for next semester, prompting the relocation of some first-floor classes and laboratory sessions during those months.

Technical experts, meanwhile, are continuing to evaluate how best to address cracks in the building's basement level toward Bigler Road, Powers said. (The building sits at the southwest corner of Bigler Road and East Park Avenue.)

Overall costs for the repairs are still being determined, Powers reported. She has said the university hopes to resolve the situation without litigation. Contracted workers, not university employees, built the forestry structure.

The Forest Resources Building houses 98,000 square feet of interior space.

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