Repair Blunders Led to Fatal Iowa Building Collapse, Investigators Find

The partial collapse of a six-story brick building in Davenport, Iowa, in May was caused by construction errors made during repair work in the days before the disaster, investigators concluded in a 113-page report commissioned by the city.

Three people were killed in the sudden and devastating collapse at the apartment building on Main Street in downtown Davenport, a city of 100,000 people on the Mississippi River about halfway between Des Moines and Chicago. The 116-year-old structure, once a hotel, was plagued by flaws that went unaddressed, even after concerned residents who rented inexpensive apartments in the building repeatedly raised alarms.

Two companies with expertise in engineering and construction were hired to investigate the causes of the collapse and present their findings to city officials. Residents and survivors of victims have contended that the building’s owner and the city were negligent in construction work and oversight.

Two major factors caused the collapse, the report concluded: the removal of bricks from a bearing wall, leaving it compromised, and a failure to properly support the wall during repair work.

“Had a proper shoring and construction phasing plan been implemented during these repairs, the building would not have partially collapsed on May 28, 2023,” the report said.

Engineers and masonry contractors responsible for the repair work “repeatedly misidentified the structural bearing wall as a nonstructural system,” the report added.

Select Structural, an engineering firm that worked on the building, declined to comment.

Contractors ignored obvious signs of distress in a brick wall that was under construction, delayed necessary repair work and installed a replacement for part of the wall that was weak and inadequate.

The building’s residents had complained about safety issues there for years. More than 140 inspections, complaints or permits related to the building had been filed with the city since the beginning of 2019, according to public records. Sometimes there was no heat or hot water in the building, residents said. Other times they reported seeing cracks and crumbling patches of brick, which were inspected by a structural engineer in the months before the collapse.

An engineer warned on May 24 that a brick facade of the building “looks poised to fall” and “is currently about to topple outward.” A building permit to fix the facade was issued by the city, records show.

Mayor Mike Matson of Davenport said in a statement, “Since the day of the partial collapse at 324 Main Street, we have been laser-focused on identifying the causes of this tragic incident.”

The state Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the collapse, and several lawsuits over the disaster have been filed against the city of Davenport and the building owner, Andrew Wold.

Mark W. Thomas, a lawyer for Mr. Wold, said in an email on Friday that he and his client were studying the new report, and declined to comment further.

Mr. Wold filed a cross complaint against Select Structural last week, saying that he was told by an engineer from the company that the building was not in danger of collapse and did not need to be evacuated.

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