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How safe are they? Companies calm fears after parking deck collapse

LAWRENCEVILLE - A decade ago, the parking deck at the Mall of Georgia became just the third mega-parking structure in Gwinnett.

In the past several years, as Gwinnett has grown, the big concrete structures have become more common, with the latest at the Gwinnett Arena opening just a few weeks ago.

This week's collapse of a six-story parking deck in Atlanta, though, has many allaying fears and letting people know the structures are sound.

"The safety of our shoppers is of utmost importance. Our parking garages are inspected frequently and a regular preventive maintenance schedule is maintained," said a statement from Simon Properties, the company that manages the Mall of Georgia and Discover Mills mall, both of which have decks.

In 1999, the Mall of Georgia and its deck in Buford were built by Hardin Construction, the same company that was the general contractor of the deck that collapsed in Atlanta. While the company hired Metromont as subcontractors to design, fabricate and erect the structure, Hardin was also recently fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a collapse of a boardwalk under construction at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. One person was killed in that collapse.

"People should not have any concerns about driving into a precast parking deck," said Bill Pinto, company president. "This, in my opinion, is an anomaly. Precast parking decks have been around a long, long, time. It's a tried and true profession and delivery method."

Pinto said the company was glad to hear no one had been hurt in the Atlanta collapse, which occurred about 12:30 p.m. Monday.

Gwinnett County Fire Department's Georgia Search and Rescue Team assisted in shoring up the structure and searching for victims for a 24-hour period beginning Monday evening, and the department's public information officer and two battalion chiefs also helped out.

"This is certainly a miracle. We are very, very fortunate nobody was trapped and nobody was killed," Gwinnett Fire spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said, adding that the only safety tip he could think of was for people to be aware of their surroundings and report any cracks or concerns in parking decks.

Kathy Holland, director of Gwinnett's Development Division, said all seven parking lots in unincorporated Gwinnett were thoroughly inspected before a certificate of occupancy was issued.

An eighth is under construction on Satellite Boulevard at Sugarloaf Centre Office.

"We don't have a process to go back and inspect decks or multi-story buildings," Holland said, adding that reinspections could be difficult since much of the support structure of a deck is underground or in places that aren't visible. "Anytime you see something on the news like that, it gives you a cause for concern. We have to be able to rely on the seal of the engineer. ... They are supposed to be built to stand forever."

Holland's list does not include decks within city limits, including one at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, a deck built in downtown Lawrenceville several years ago and a deck at Georgia Gwinnett College that opened last year.

Preston Williams, who works for the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau and recently helped oversee the construction of the parking deck at the arena, said the structure has worked well during the last several events at the venue.

"You're always concerned, but we feel like we had the right team at the table (including architects and builders)," he said.

On the Atlanta collapse, he added, "Things happen and I think it will take a while (to determine the cause). I'd like to know once the reports come out That's what you learn from."