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Van Hise facade collapse prompts likely investigation

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Van Hise Hall
Photo: UW System

MADISON (WKOW) - The structural integrity of a portion of UW-Madison's Van Hise Hall and its maintenance history are likely to be examined in the aftermath of the collapse of a concrete slab from the facade of the building's third floor to a spot near an entrance below.

"Get up on the roof and see what's broken, what came apart to allow that piece of facade to fall off," structural engineer and president of Virginia-based Blue Ridge Design Inc. Ned Cleland said of first, recommended steps.  Cleland studied the 2010 collapse of a concrete slab at a Milwaukee parking garage that killed teenager Jared Kellner and injured others.

The slab at Van Hise Hall remained in front of the building Tuesday, with the building entrance near the spot closed.

UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone says the concrete slab fell onto the plaza level below at approximately 1 p.m. Sunday.

"We’re grateful no one was hurt in this incident and are working diligently to understand what caused it to occur and what action may be needed to keep everyone safe," McGlone said.

"The building remains open; there are no classes being held in the building this semester," McGlone said.  But there are department offices in the 19-story building, including the offices of the UW System Board of Regents.

"Facilities Planning and Management is overseeing the response, working with the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of Facilities Development. We expect they will need to contract out for some additional resources to perform a thorough engineering review of the building’s facade and hardscape. This is likely to take some time," McGlone said.

Cleland maintains the Milwaukee parking structure collapse was the largely the product of inferior building materials and approach related to the fallen concrete slab.  While Cleland has not examined Van Hise Hall's collapsed facade other than through limited photos and video, he believes it is more likely wear and tear on the 54-year-old building's roof and facade section is a factor.

Van Hise Hall's third floor is ringed by more than a dozen facade slabs identical to the one that collapsed.

Cleland says that construction is any inspection's priority.  "The first thing is to protect the public," Cleland says.

Given the building is on a publicly operated major university campus, Cleland said reviewing maintenance logs, other records and procedures is called for.

"Something of this age certainly would merit some inspection to be undertaken to ensure there aren't major problems or issues," he said.

He noted the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a 2021 report that produced a C-grade for maintenance on the nation's infrastructure.

Governor Evers has proposed the allocation of funds to replace several, aging buildings in the UW-System.  A UW master plan calls for phasing out Van Hise Hall, but not completely until 2035 at earliest.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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