After deadly London fire, Marriott reviewing material used on Harbor East hotel

Marriott International and city officials say they are reviewing the cladding on the outside of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel — cladding its manufacturer says is made of the same material that accelerated a deadly London apartment building fire four weeks ago.

The reviews were prompted by the June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower in London, where more than 80 people died. Investigators blamed the fire's quick spread, in part, on material called Reynobond PE used in the cladding panels.

The manufacturer says cladding with Reynobond PE was used on the Baltimore building as well.

Arconic, the manufacturer, on its website points to Marriott as an example of a project that used the aluminum composite. But it is unclear whether the material was actually used.

The building's general contractor, Armada Hoffler Construction Co., said it no longer has records from the project. Architect Peter Fillat said he did not have the information readily available. The Baltimore Planning Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development said they do not have records that indicate what materials were used.

Jeff Flaherty, a spokesman for Marriott, said the company is working with experts to make sure the Harbor East hotel is safe.

"We are working with the majority owner of the hotel and with industry experts to determine whether the Reynobond ACM RB 160 PE is in the exterior cladding at the hotel and confirm that the cladding product meets applicable safety requirements," he wrote in an email. "The safety and security of our guests and associates is always a top priority for Marriott."

The Baltimore Fire Department referred questions about the safety of the hotel to the housing department, which supplied its building permits. The permits, issued in 1998 and 1999, do not say whether the material was used in the cladding.

"We are looking into the Marriott's exterior wall finish," said Tania Baker, the spokeswoman for the housing agency. "Until our investigation is complete, it would be premature to conclude that the permits were other than validly issued."

After the London fire, Arconic, which makes both fire resistant and non-fire resistant Reynobond, said it would no longer provide Reynobond PE — the kind that doesn't resist fire — for high-rise buildings.

"In light of this tragedy, we have taken the decision to no longer provide this product in any high-rise applications, regardless of local codes and regulations," the company said in a statement.

Of the hotel in Baltimore, Arconic said, "We sell our products with the expectation that they are used in a system that complies with local building codes and regulations."

Arconic states on its website it provided the material on the Marriott that Baltimore developer John Paterakis Sr. opened in 2001.

"Using Reynobond Aluminum Composite Material RB160 PE core, Precision Walls designed an aluminum panel system prefabricated on heavy gauge steel stud framing with a custom route and return attachment system," Arconic's website states. "At 23 feet each, these are the longest panels ever produced by Alcoa Architectural Products."

Harbor East Limited Partnership, a group formed by Paterakis that owns the building, could not be reached for comment.

Building experts pointed to differences between London's Grenfell Tower and the Baltimore hotel.

Beth Tubbs, a senior staff engineer for the International Code Council, cautioned against drawing parallels between the two.

Building codes in the United Kingdom are different from those followed in the United States. Sprinkler systems are mandatory for new construction high-rise buildings in the U.S. but are not necessarily required in the U.K. The Marriott has a sprinkler system.

The Grenfell tower did not have an automatic sprinkler system, had only one staircase and its fire safety plan advised residents to remain in their apartments unless the fire was inside their unit.  

"It's apples and oranges comparing the two," Tubbs said. "You have to break down the situation a little more."

The International Building Code, which the International Code Council writes and Maryland requires all jurisdictions to follow, calls for a building material to be tested in combination with other materials it will be used with, Tubbs said.

A building material that is safe on its own could respond differently to fire tests when combined with other layers, she said.

"You could have a wall that passes, but put an asphalt layer on it and it wouldn't pass," she said. "You have to test it as it's going to be constructed."

Even when buildings are constructed to code, events like the Grenfell fire often prompt regulators to re-examine their standards. The International Code Council updated its codes after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she said.

"You learn lessons along the way about how materials perform."

The organization routinely updates codes about every three years.

How much of the material was used and the way it was configured would also affect its performance in a fire test, said Robert Solomon, a fire protection engineer with the National Fire Protection Association.

"We don't want to say the building is unsafe, but that's the kind of thing a building owner should say, 'O.K., we need to go look at the configuration, how it's installed,'" Solomon said.

Using the cladding sparsely — as trim around the windows, for example — would be less concerning than if it covered broad surfaces in vertical or horizontal panels, Solomon said.

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