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'If this balcony had been built as designed, this would not have happened'

California’s licencing board said that Segue Construction failed to follow building plans during construction.
Apr 22nd 2017, 12:14 PM 20,798 11

THE STATE OF California has revoked the licence of a building contractor, which was found to have “willfully ignored” building plans which resulted in the death of six people, including five Irish nationals, when a balcony collapsed in June 2015.

All aged 21 and 22, Irish students Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Shuster, Lorcan Miller, Eimear Walsh and Irish-American Ashley Donohoe died when a balcony collapsed during a party at an apartment in the US city of Berkeley, California.

They had been on a J1 for the summer, and attended UCD.

Yesterday, Segue Construction of Pleasanton agreed to the terms of a settlement with the California Contractor’s State Licensing Board (CSLB) after it stood accused of using cheaper, weaker material on the balcony than the building plans specified.

The company both diverted from the plans and specifications, and departed from accepted trade standards, according to the CSLB.

Under the terms of the agreement reached:

  • Segue Construction has had its licence revoked. It cannot apply for its reinstatement for the next five years.
  • The company’s CEO and President between 1992 and 2008, Kirk Alan Wallis, has agreed to pay almost $100,000 to the CSLB to reimburse its investigating costs, before the company can be issued a new licence.
  • The company’s “Responsible Managing Officer” (RMO) between 2008 and 2016, David Michael Dunlop, must pay the CSLB $15,000 before a new licence can be issued.
  • For the pair to be associated with any future California contractor’s licence, it must pay the State bonds between $15,000 and $150,000 that would held for at least two years.

In the state’s documents, it detailed how the company entered into a contract to construct the Library Gardens Apartments in 2005, and completed the project in 2007.

Instead of using “three/four-inch plywood as called for in the plans and specifications” for the balconies, three layers of oriented strand board (OSB) was used instead.

This was despite the project plans stating that “OSB is not an acceptable substrate”.

Also, the building specification of a “sacrificial membrane” to be applied to the balcony deck prior to final waterproofing was not applied, and over 38 inches of rain fell in the area during the construction phase.

Furthermore, it was the state’s case that if the balconies had been built as per the plans and specifications, the balcony would not have collapsed:

Design and load analysis of the balcony established that if the balcony had been built as designed, the imposed load of the 13 students was well within the design limits of the balcony.

“Forensic examination of the cantilever balcony established the existence of dry rot/decay of the balcony deck joints and the three layers of OSB that were in direct contact with the balcony desk joints.

It was the decay of the joints that caused the balcony to collapse on 16 June, 2015.

In September, California passed legislation that would enforce greater regulation and oversight of construction procedures.

Read: ‘The balcony collapse that killed my daughter was not an isolated event’

Read: ‘My daughter and her friends should still be alive’

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Sean Murray

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