Questions will be asked for several weeks, if not months, as to how the parking structure at Ascension St. Vincent’s hospital suddenly collapsed on Monday afternoon.
All that’s clear now is there are not a lot of answers.
“Obviously we’re very early into this, and there will be a full investigation done. There’ll be engineers brought out to look at that, but right now there’s nobody prepared to say what happened. Some kind of structural failure, but we don’t know what,” Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Cheif Keith Powers said.
Mark Keister, a Jacksonville structural engineer who helped following the parking garage collapse at Berkman Plaza in 2007, said Tuesday that in that case, a failure of shoring contributed to the collapse, but in this case, it’s unknown.
Keister said garages that are more than three stories get what are called threshold inspections either by the city of Jacksonville or companies hire one.
Another engineer who spoke to News4JAX said the inspection would involve looking at the concrete used in the parking garage.
“Concrete cracks,” said Norma Jean Mattei, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “It’s the nature of the material. So the reinforcing steel is embedded. It’s the rebar. Concrete gives it a protection against fire and corrosion. But once the concrete cracks if there is water that can get to the reinforcement, then you can have the reinforcing corrode.”
As far as who built the garage, permits appear to show the Batson-Cook company, a company that has built a lot of garages, was responsible for construction.
One of its projects in Atlanta in 2020 was where six workers were trapped during a partial collapse, but unlike the hospital garage that garage was still under construction.
News4JAX also found on the City of Jacksonville website a complaint from 2021 involving one of the garages on the campus.
“This building constantly has water leaks for years. At any given time there are several leaks, which makes me question the structural equipment. What’s stopping this from being the next collapse? Also the Dillon parking garage should be inspected as well. This remained operational with what looked like braces in a weak area over a long period time,” the complaint stated.
It’s unclear whether that complaint was about issues near where the collapse happened or on other parts of the Ascension St. Vincent’s campus.
COJ listed that issue as “Closed.”
Fire Chief Powers said adjacent buildings also won’t allow people in until it can be determined they’re structurally safe.
Aside from inspecting structural issues, there are sure to be legal issues ahead.
First, there are the damaged cars. The hospital will also likely be down parking for a long time and the hard question to answer of who’s responsible.
The most obvious victims in the garage collapse are those who lost vehicles when the concrete caved in. Gene Nichols, a veteran Jacksonville attorney, said that will likely be handled by insurance very quickly.
“We have to deal with people who lost their cars or lost use of their cars. I am sure that just about everybody parked in the garage is going to have a difficult time getting out even for cars that weren’t damaged, he said. “Cars that were damaged, clearly St. Vincent’s is going to cover the total loss of the car for sure and any other property in the cars.”
That will be the quick part of the aftermath, but determining who’s liable will be a much longer-term issue. Nichols said the hospital will do inspections and look at everything from how the garage was originally built to whether the garage passed inspection.
“What everybody’s going to address is what caused this, how long is this garage going to be shut down?” he said. “We need to consider whether any entities, business entities have their businesses affected by this.”
Nichols brought up a few other comparable stories. First, there was the Berkman II garage collapse in 2007 where a person died. He also brought up the Surfside Condo collapse in South Florida and said water damage played a role.
“Concrete structures should last an incredible amount of time unless water becomes an issue. And it’s not just a matter of water on concrete but if water gets inside the concrete or gets to the rebar and starts to rust the rebar that’s when you know you have issues. The vast majority of cases like these involve water intrusion,” Nichols said.