Report: Contractors at Fault in Drawdy Park Wall Collapse

The aftermath of January’s collapse of a portion of the retaining wall around the new Drawdy Park football field. Construction has since picked up the pieces and is in the process of moving on.

WINNSBORO – Six months after nearly 60 feet of a 473-foot long retaining wall around the Drawdy Park football field collapsed into a heap of rubble, a detailed report from an independent engineering firm was obtained this week through an FOIA request by The Voice from Fairfield County Administrator Milton Pope. Although the wall collapsed following a day of heavy rain back on Jan. 12, the report places responsibility for the failure squarely at the feet of the project’s engineer, S2 Engineering and Consulting, their subcontractor, Four Brothers Enterprise, LLC and the unconfirmed individual whose name is on the plans.

“A lack of design detail and a disregard for the design intent during construction directly contributed to the failure,” the report, prepared by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Inc. and dated March 31, states. “The design drawing does not include key elements on the spacing and geometry of the wall section, leaving construction personnel the latitude to deviate from the intent of the design professional. Additionally, the drawing does not include the signature of the design professional or the seal of the company that was responsible for the design as required by South Carolina law.”

Following the collapse, a Blythewood general contractor with experience in wall construction reviewed photographs of the wreckage for The Voice and expressed serious concerns with how the wall was constructed. The contractor, who wished to remain anonymous, said it appeared as if there had been no plan for constructing the wall, or if there had been, the plan had not been followed.

Among his concerns for a wall of that height (10 feet) was the absence of adequate rebar in the construction. Photographs of the collapsed portion of the wall show rebar inserted into about every eighth column of block. The Blythewood contractor said rebar should have been inserted into every column of block and should have been filled with concrete. Photographs of the collapsed section indicate that little or no concrete fill had been included with the rebar.

The Blythewood contractor also said the blocks had not been interlocked, as they should have been, nor were the deadmen (horizontal support sections running from the wall into the earth behind the wall). Rebar had also not been properly installed into the deadmen. Soil behind the wall also should have been compacted with every 2 feet of fill, the contractor said. Photographs of the collapse indicate that it had not. Weep holes (drainage holes) also should have been provided along the base of the wall, he said. No such holes are visible in the photographs.

That analysis was confirmed by the March 31 Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood report.

“The construction of the wall did not follow industry standards for the placement of the fill or the coursing of the reinforced masonry,” the report states. “The lack of adequate drainage behind the wall and the improper construction of the piers led to a failure . . .”

The Drawing Board

According to documents and invoices obtained earlier this year by The Voice, the County paid S2 $39,750 in March of 2012 for “architectural and engineering design layout and drawings.” Less than a month later, the County forked over another $11,275, since S2 discovered that the “total area for the Drawdy Park Survey and Engineering study is more than twice the size that was originally given,” according to the invoice. But as of last February, the County had no drawings for the project in its possession.

Drawings inspected by The Voice shortly after the wall’s collapse were revealed to be merely a set of “as-built” drawings pertaining strictly to the ill-fated retaining wall – drawings dated after construction of the wall had been completed. The drawings are not to scale and include little detailed information. Sources with the County told The Voice that the drawings were not plans, but were “as built” drawings and were protocol for changes that occur during a construction project. Those drawings were indeed unsigned and bore no official seal. The drawings were labeled as having been prepared by Sherman Sumter. A search of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation database turned up no mention of Sumter.

Rising Costs

The retaining wall was only a few months old and still under warrantee when it toppled, and last month work began on reparations. S2 was still at the helm, but with Mims Contracting serving as subcontractor and Chao Associates as structural designer. The work is being done at no cost to the County.

Former County Administrator Phil Hinely green-lighted the construction of the new football field in May of 2013 with a cost limit of $280,000, but documents obtained earlier this year by The Voice indicate the project actually began much earlier than that, with the price tag quickly climbing to more than $380,000.

Last January, The Voice submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the County for an itemized breakdown of all costs and expenses associated with the Drawdy Park project. The County answered that request, but instead of providing an itemized breakdown, only supplied The Voice with a copy of the County’s final authorization form and a “technical memorandum” from S2 to the County. Bids and invoices for chain link fencing around the field were also included, but an itemized breakdown of S2’s work was not. Those constituted all of the documentation in the County’s possession regarding costs for the project, Pope told The Voice.

The “Authorization to process on building maintenance projects assigned to S2,” signed for final approval on May 21, 2013 by Hinely, show that the Drawdy Park project was not to exceed $280,000. But the “technical memorandum” from Sam Savage of S2 Engineering & Consulting to Davis Anderson, Deputy County Administrator, dated May 15, 2013, gives a rough outline of “work to be performed and work that is near completion,” with an estimated cost of $321,200.

While the memorandum provides a laundry list of various aspects to the project – from engineering design and site clearing to the installation of an irrigation system and the construction of the retaining wall – it does not include any line-item costs or expenses associated with each aspect. A handful of invoices and other documentation obtained by The Voice through anonymous sources, meanwhile, indicate that the County has shelled out at least $339,750 to S2 for the project since March of 2012.

SLED

Last February, the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) launched an investigation into Fairfield County’s procurement practices under Hinely. Of particular interest in the early stages of that investigation, according to a statement made by Council Chairman David Ferguson after Council’s Feb. 25 meeting, was the County’s relationship with S2 Engineering. Between December 2009 and September 2013, the County shelled out more than $8.76 million to S2 for various contracts. According to documents obtained by The Voice, projects over that time period range from improvements to the HON Building, construction of the new Voter Registration offices, work at the County Courthouse as well as the Drawdy Park project.

While records indicate that most, if not all, of these projects were not put out for bid, Pope said during Council’s Feb. 10 meeting that S2 was one of several firms on a list of firms approved for County work by Hinely. Since Pope’s arrival as Interim last summer, the County has returned to a more conventional procurement process, putting projects and purchases out for bid in accordance with County policy. Ferguson said on Feb. 25 that while the former procurement practices may have been unusual, they were not illegal.

“Was it best practices? It was the cheapest practice for us to get jobs accomplished,” Ferguson said. “Did we bid out every job? No. With Milton (Pope) we do. Does that cost you? Yeah, it does.”

A spokesperson for SLED told The Voice this week that their investigation remains open.

The Reconstruction

The March 31 report by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood concluded that the failed section of retaining wall should be rebuilt by the contractor and that a drainage system, as well as waterproofing, should be installed on the back side of the wall to prevent another failure. Mims Contracting, under the direction of S2’s Sam Savage, has since had to overcome several challenges.

According to daily inspection reports provided to the County by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood between June 3 and June 26, inspectors were able to prevent Mims Contracting from installing the incorrect rebar size on the new construction. Soil compaction testing, which held up the project for weeks, was finally completed and approved on June 23. Drainage appears to be an ongoing issue at the site, as three times the inspector has instructed the crew supervisor to open a temporary drainage trench at the wall footing. As of June 24, that had not been accomplished. Inspectors also noted safety concerns at the site and on June 19 recommended the installation of a safety fence beyond the top slope at the edge of the football field.