Update: Parliament’s roof crashing in Strasbourg

Gerard Onesta, Vice-President of the European Parliament and in this capacity resonsible for the building/infrastructure management has clarified the following points (excerpts, quoted, bold from me):

1.  About 250 square metres of the plaster ceiling lining have come off in two phases on Thursday, 7th of August, one at the end of the afternoon and the other during the evening.
This represents 10 tons of material and 10% of the surface of the ceiling. Luckily the hemicycle was deserted. … Accordingly, if this accident would have happened during one of our sessions, this would have hit the representatives of the European Commission, a part of the EPP party and all non-attached members, as this are the parts of the hemicycle that is concerned.

If the whole hemicycle would not be covered with dust, the desks, seats and the voting system are only marginally affected.

2. All experts have clearly identified – without any doubt – the reason of the damage. It has to be noted that numerous international engineering companies (charged by the insurances, the public powers and the Parliament itself) have intervened immediately in the presence of the architects. To avoid a conflict of interests, the engineering company being the initiator of the project (OTE) has been excluded and the international engineering bureau charged by the Parliament – which was complemented with our habitual control body – is “not French”.

The French government itself has immediately sent the Director of the National Building Technology Centre to the place; this means the highest authority possible.

The fall of the inserted ceiling comes from the breaking of the flexible parts of the overhead suspension, which connects it with the steel girder of the structure. Effectively, to allow the acoustic for a room of this big seize being adequate, the architects had chosen to avoid rigid fixings so that the inserted ceiling could absorb sound waves. This is a quite common operation. The inquiry will determine if the overhead suspension from caoutchouc have been badly calibrated by the engineering company OTE, or if it has been wrongly placed by the construction companies, or if the chemical composition of the product has deteriorated over time.

It was also possible to note that the rubble of the initial works have been deplorably abandoned on the inserted ceiling, which could have caused a punctual overload. All this conclusions have of cause been made in the presence of the ushers (several hours of investigation with a multitude of photographic overviews).

During the incident, the breaking of one of the flexible overhead suspensions has surely lead to a higher weight to be born by the neighbouring overhead suspensions which then lead this to break off and hence starting a “snowball-effect”. There was neither a safety mechanism to halt the deterioration of the caoutchouc nor a warning system to announce the immediate danger.

It has to be noted that the hemicycle is the only room that has been constructed in this way in Strasbourg (for the reason of it’s seize), and that I have requested to immediately verify the ceiling structure of the hemicycle in Brussels. According to the first results of the investigation, it seems as if the inserted ceilings in Brussels have been constructed differently.

3. The works are not extremely complicated from the technical side, but they are lengthy because they are carried out on a huge surface and need rigidity and thoroughness. … If it becomes clear that we do not rapidly have the ABSOLUTE certainty that everything can be finished on time under the strictest respect of safety, the President of the Parliament and the Secretary General (the only ones competent for questions relating to safety) will decide – according to the evidence – that the first plenary session of September (01-04 September) will exceptionally be held in Brussels.

This is also the position that I am defending from the first day on: The respect of the Treaty that contains the obligation to hold 12 sessions per year in Strasbourg, outweighs no security imperatives

In order to allow the preparation of this session under the best conditions (reservations of flights, hotels) for deputies, functionaries and assistants the Secretary General must officially communicate the venue of the first session as from the end of the present week (at latest on Monday, the 25th of August).

4.  The costs of the works are not yet known – probably several millions of Euros – but the LOW building is covered by its 10 years insurance until December 2008. The whole costs will be hence born by the insurance of the works (the experts will distribute the responsibilities between architects, engineering companies, producers and companies). The European tax payer will hence have nothing to pay.

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