Everything was on schedule at 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, where the Turner Construction Co. is planning to have an office building ready for occupancy next January, but one detail had been overlooked -- a wall check by the District surveyor's office.
Cornerstones for the 13-story building were laid last summer. By the time Turner Construction requested the mandatory wall check -- during which the lay of a new building is measured to see that it is on established property lines -- the building was already at grade, or about six feet too high. To be done correctly, a wall check should be finished before a building's walls are more than a foot high, the District building code specifies.
The city surveyor's office crew, when finally summoned to the job, grumbled that a wall check was worthless, recalled James L. McClananhan, the crew's supervisor.
"This is nothing," said one District surveyor, "A lot of the buildings already have a roof on top."
Wall checks, required for all residential and commercial construction in the District since 1907, are paid for in advance at the surveyor's office at 614 H St. NW. It is the builder's responsibility to file for a check. The surveyor's office forwards the results to the building regulation division of the Building and Zoning Regulation Administration to verify compliance with the building code.
Often, by the time a building inspector notices that a wall check has been overlooked, construction is to the point where rebuilding the walls would be a major project, said an employe in the building regulation division, who asked not to be named.
"We don't deliberately let them go ahead," the employe said. "But by the time we get it, the job is already up. Would you stop construction on a $50 million building?"
Employes in both the District surveyor's office and the building regulation division acknowledged that while most buildings are on the right property, there have been times, especially when the construction was residential, that walls have had to have been torn down. But no one would say how many -- nor would they say if any buildings have gone up recently without wall checks.
When structures built in error encroach on adjoining property, owners have to apply for city approval of the design, but officials would not say how many of those enfractions actually have occured -- or where.
One reason wall checks occasionally are not completed on time, some city officials maintain, is that the office of the surveyor does not have enough staff to respond to calls quickly. Since a hiring freeze was imposed in the District five years ago, the surveyor's field crews have been reduced from five to two. There are four persons in each crew.
Some positions were eliminated, several engineers retired and other engineers left for private industry and bigger paychecks. No one was replaced and the staff dwindled from approximately 37 surveyors, draftsmen and office workers to 27, said T. Edward Koch, the District's acting surveyor. The office loses at least four workers a year in normal turnover, he added.
"We were in a bind, so we went ahead with the possibility it would all have to be undone," he said.
Koch is optimistic that more stuff is on the way. "I'm hopeful we'll get some assistance," said Koch, who is working with a $469,000 annual budget.
"We're doing our job with great difficulty.The deterioration started with the 1975 job freeze and we went continually downhill. We're only several days behind on wall checks now, but we have two or three big jobs coming up, so we'll back up again. And we'll continue to have a backlog until we get more personnel."
The Robert T. Foley Co. waited almost two months for District surveyors to perform wall checks on homes it was building at Foxhall Terrace in Northwest, a spokesman for the firm said.
"At one point in time, crews were out there in 24 hours after notice for a wall check came in," said one employe. "If you came in here last year, we would have told you it would take weeks. We're getting to them in a few days now."
The delays were at the height of the 1977-78 building boom in the District.
(The value of construction permits in both 1977 and 1978 topped $300 million. In 1979, the total valuation of construction permits was $230.5 million.) Many builders, rather than lose money delaying a job, continued to build far beyond the point of a wall check in the hope they were on the proper lot lines. b