Striking back at a rash of fraud among laboratories that test concrete in New York City, the Department of Buildings (DOB) announced today that it has launched a new Concrete Unit and will open its own laboratory to evaluate projects and testing firms throughout the five boroughs.
The move comes weeks after independent testing company Stallone Testing Laboratories was indicted on charges of falsifying concrete strength reports for some of the city’s largest projects, including 1 World Trade Center and the Goldman Sachs headquarters. In addition, a list released by District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office names nearly 90 city projects that could have received false concrete mix-design reports. Officials began investigating the testing business following the indictment of Testwell Laboratories on similar charges last October.
“The concrete testing industry needs to wake up,” said DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri at a press conference held at DOB headquarters. Flanked by Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney and Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, LiMandri said that the city would clamp down on fraudulent test reports by having its Concrete Unit—comprised of two licensed DOB engineers and two construction inspectors—perform spot checks at construction sites throughout the city, in addition to auditing work at private testing facilities to ensure that mix-design tests required by New York’s building code are performed correctly.
Meanwhile, the new laboratory, which will be operated by the Department of Design and Construction, is charged with inspecting and testing the work of 35 firms currently licensed to test concrete in New York City. Located in the Bronx, the lab will perform its own concrete mix-design and compression tests under the leadership of a still unnamed director, who is required by law to be a licensed design professional with at least five years of applicable experience. Expected to open in January, the lab will cost about $1 million to set up and about half that amount to operate each year.
Thus far, the owners of a number of buildings named in the indictments have proactively tested their structural concrete, and all have been deemed sound. For the remainder of the suspect projects, the DOB has developed a retesting protocol, including visual inspections and core sampling, for each project supplier and each mix design. Because there is no national standard to retest concrete throughout an entire building, the DOB used existing American Concrete Institute standards for testing small areas to create the full-building protocols. DOB has begun to notify property owners and developers that will have to perform retesting at their own expense.
When asked why independent laboratories were motivated to create fraudulent test results in the first place, Gill Hearn replied, “Time is money.” But the same hard truth that motivated testing labs to churn out false reports may be the DOB’s biggest challenge as it works with a building industry already fraught with slowdowns and a long backlog of projects yet to be certified as structurally sound.