Concrete shear failure caused fatal walkway collapse at University Village, documents show

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 9:47 p.m. CST; updated 11:55 a.m. CST, Thursday, March 6, 2014
A walkway at the University Village apartments collapsed on Feb. 22. The MU-run apartment complex was built in 1956 and houses students with children, married students, single graduate students and students older than 21.

COLUMBIA — Walkways at University Village had a history of structural problems and had been repaired several times before one collapsed on Feb. 22, according to documents released Wednesday by MU.

"Concrete shear failure" caused the walkway of Building 707 to partially collapse at the apartment complex, which resulted in the death of Columbia firefighter Bruce Britt, according to a report released Wednesday. The building's 18 residents were displaced.

MU hired a structural engineering firm, Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw Inc., to inspect all facilities owned and leased by the university. The firm compiled reports that found "water and chloride, and expansion from freeze-thaw action" contributed to existing problems in the structure. Weather might have also played a role in collapse. Concrete on the walkway deteriorated to the point where it couldn't support its own weight.

According to a sketch drawn by the engineering firm, the walkway collapsed from the outside edge, swung down and then fell, landing upside down on the walkway below. Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw's report said the loud noise reported by residents was likely the sound of the concrete cracking.

Repairs were made to a section of the walkway of Building 707 as recently as July 2013, according to records of work orders released Wednesday. But it's not clear from the records provided in response to a Sunshine Law request what exactly was repaired.

The report, signed by the firm's structural team leader Kris Bezenek, notes that the walkways of three other buildings — 602, 604 and 709 —  are in need of immediate repair. According to the report, "the load-carrying capacity" of parts of those walkways is "very questionable" and "unless remedial action is taken, a catastrophic collapse could be imminent." All three buildings are occupied.

Wooden beams have been installed beneath all walkways in the complex to provide extra stability. The added supports will allow residents to live there safely for the next few months, MU spokesman Christian Basi said. There are no short-term plans to close the buildings with walkways deemed to be in need of immediate repair.

The university is discussing long-term plans for the complex, he said, but he wouldn't speculate about what options were being considered.

All University Village residents have been allowed to terminate their leases without penalty, Basi said, though only a couple residents have chosen to leave so far. 

"We're trying to make sure they have any resource available to them to find alternative housing," he said.

The walkways of eight additional buildings were targeted by the engineering firm as needing varying degrees of repair, including three that are unoccupied but would have required immediate repair if people had been living there, according to the documents. Of those three, Building 708 was closed in 2006 because the university did not think it was safe for residents. Building 705 was closed for a combination of problems, including safety and financial issues. It was not immediately clear why Building 704 was unoccupied.

MU buildings, including University Village apartments, are not subject to regularly scheduled structural inspections, according to previous Missourian reporting.

MU staff visually inspected University Village walkways every year. Basi said employees trained to spot potential problems are in University Village at least once a week and file work orders if they see something that needs to be addressed.

A history of problems

The documents, including emails, show that university housing staff were aware of cosmetic and structural problems with the walkways before Feb. 22. Emails in 2010 discussed potential repairs to the walkways, referred to in some of the documents as "decks." Basi said repairs were conducted almost immediately after that correspondence by adding steel reinforcements underneath the walkways.

About two years before those emails, a plan for the future of MU-owned graduate student and family housing shows the university was discussing vacating or demolishing University Village by 2011 because of "significant structural damage and deterioration" in almost all the buildings. Deteriorating metal decks are cited as a safety hazard in the plan.

Basi said MU chose to keep the complex open because it's a popular choice for three reasons: low cost, proximity to campus and community atmosphere.

"Because of that continued demand we have tried to maintain as many living spaces as possible," Basi said.

University Village, located near the southwest corner of Providence and Stewart roads, was built in 1956 and houses older students and families. The rent for University Village ranges from $426 per month for a one-bedroom apartment to $614 per month for an enlarged two-bedroom site.

There were 109 people living in University Village at the time of the collapse. The 18 residents living in Building 707 have since been relocated to other university housing, hotels or residential homes.

In 2012, Residential Life Director Frankie Minor told the Missourian he had spoken to private developers about rebuilding the complex but that it had been difficult to find a financially feasible way to do so.


Inspection report from Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw Inc. on March 4.

Inspection report from Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw Inc. on Feb. 23.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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