Punching about 2,000 holes in a concrete building plagued by cracks and design problems doesn’t sound like such a hot idea.
But that’s part of the work planned for the Silver Spring Transit Center, the oval-shaped bus-and-train hub that has been a $120 million concrete albatross around the necks of Montgomery County officials.
The holes will be filled with epoxy and new reinforcing steel, which are intended to help the structure better withstand the weight of hundreds of Metro, Ride On and regional buses that will be driving each day through the facility adjacent to the Silver Spring Metro station.
In May, county officials said the goal was to deliver a finished building to Metro by the end of the year. But with repairs still in progress, there remains no opening date for the center, which broke ground six years ago this fall. It probably will be sometime this winter before the building is conveyed to Metro, which then has 60 days to decide whether to accept it.
“When I know how long it will take, I can tell them when I’ll be done,” said Allyn Kilsheimer, the engineering consultant hired by the county to complete repairs to the building.
While the transit center — which is nearly four years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget — represents a major failure of management and oversight for the county, it scarcely merits a line on Kilsheimer’s résumé.
One of the world’s pre-eminent troubleshooters of distressed and damaged buildings, Kilsheimer worked as an engineering consultant in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995 and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, and has dealt with a long list of other structures that met with catastrophe.
Now 75, he is a bearish, blunt-speaking man with a thick, white beard who looked like a latter-day Noah trying to finish a leaky ark as he strode the site in the rain last week.
He enjoys keeping visitors off balance with alternating riffs of profanity and grandiloquence. During the tour of the facility, he recounted his answer a few years ago to an interviewer who asked about the basis of his success: “It’s because I have huge balls,” he said. “It’s the bottom line. Nothing scares me.”
Kilsheimer and his D.C.-based firm, KCE, conducted the March 2013 study of the transit center after problems surfaced with cracking and structural steel poking through the concrete surfaces. The analysis concluded that inadequate concrete strength and lack of reinforcing steel, among other problems, would render the building unsafe and unusable unless the county authorized major repairs.
KCE recommended several measures, including additional steel reinforcement against “torsion and shear” forces that would be created by bus traffic. Torsion is exerted on concrete by twisting; shearing refers to vertical pressures that could cause concrete to crack or fall.
The report cited “errors and omissions” by the designer, Parsons Brinckerhoff; the general contractor, Foulger-Pratt; and the inspections firm, Robert B. Balter Co.
But repairs progressed in fits and starts, interrupted by cold winter temperatures and months of infighting among the county, Metro, contractors and lots of lawyers over how best to proceed.
Parsons Brinckerhoff said the added reinforcement of girders and roadways was not only unnecessary, but also inadvisable. The firm said the highly invasive nature of the proposed repair work (those 2,000 holes) might actually further undermine the structure.
But another review, headed by former Lockheed Martin chairman Norman Augustine, affirmed Kilsheimer’s diagnosis in April. Without the torsion and shear work, Augustine said, the public would be at increased risk from falling chunks of concrete. Parsons Brinckerhoff finally signed off on the plan and ceded responsibility to Kilsheimer for executing it. The county formalized the arrangement this spring by hiring him as the “specialty engineer of record.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff is still working on the site, along with Foulger-Pratt and Balter, all overseen by KCE personnel.
Crews have been busy over the spring and summer. A “crack survey” was conducted to identify new fissures and seal them. Ramps and curb cuts, which complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act when first completed, have been torn out and modified to meet new standards. Elevators and escalators, which have yet to carry passengers, are getting regular preventive maintenance so that age and rust don’t catch up with them when the transit center finally opens.
The holes, to be drilled into the concrete girders in pairs, will be filled with small, U-shaped steel braces called cap ties, followed by a high-strength epoxy and rods of reinforcing steel. The concrete has been probed with ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging to ensure that drills do not hit any of the existing steel supports.
The work will be “labor intensive and tedious,” said David Dise, the county’s general services director, one of the reasons he remains reluctant to offer a specific completion schedule. Kilsheimer and his team are already using small areas of the building to perform “mock-ups,” or dress rehearsals, of the procedure.
After the girder supports are installed, a two-inch layer of latex-modified concrete will be added, followed by a new series of struts to reinforce overhead concrete beams.
While Kilsheimer couldn’t promise a delivery date, he proclaimed — in his usual salty language — that there would be no more time-consuming in-fighting among the players.
“I have something that I’ve lived my whole life on,” he said, “which is lead, follow or get the . . . out of the way.”