Design, work flaws blamed in collapse

The Baltimore Sun

Design and installation flaws apparently caused one of two glass roof sections to collapse last month above an eight-story atrium at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Hunt Valley, a company spokeswoman said yesterday.

The hotel will remain closed until the other glass roof section is removed and both are replaced, a process that began Monday, said Dawn Ray, a spokeswoman at the hotel chain's Memphis, Tenn., headquarters.

Embassy Suites hotels are independently owned and operated, but the company has been encouraging owners of two other locations with similar skylight systems to inspect their properties "as a precautionary measure," said Ray, who would not identify the hotels.

"Those owners have hired structural engineering teams to assess their atrium skylights," Ray said.

All of the company's 186 hotels in the United States, Canada and Latin America have skylights towering above wide atriums, Ray said.

An atrium runs through the center of the 23-year-old hotel in the 200 block of International Circle near Hunt Valley Towne Centre. The hotel features soaring glass ceilings and a landscaped footpath, according to the hotel's Web site. The area also includes benches and tables where breakfast is served daily.

A glass roof section that measured 29 feet by 60 feet collapsed about 2 p.m. Oct. 10. Guests were evacuated, and a county structural engineer declared the hotel unsafe for occupancy.

Of the hotel's 223 rooms, 130 were occupied when the roof collapsed, hotel officials said. No one was injured during the collapse, county fire officials said.

At the time, guests such as Esti Angyalfi, who was in town from England for her brother's wedding, described hearing a cracking sound and seeing shards of glass raining down on the atrium.

Days later, the county's building engineer ordered the hotel to remove the remaining glass roof section. That requirement was included in a permit that allowed the hotel to place a temporary covering in place of the skylights while permanent repairs are made.

Ray, the Embassy Suites spokeswoman, said the engineering firm that provided a preliminary finding on the cause of the collapse determined that the structural integrity of the building was not compromised. She would not identify the firm.

The company has not set a date for the reopening of the Hunt Valley hotel, she said.

"It is known, however, that both skylights will be fully installed when the hotel does reopen," Ray said. "The remaining skylight is in the process of being removed. At that point, progress on installing both skylights will continue."

The hotel's 80 employees returned to a "full work schedule" Oct. 22 and have been assisting in the cleanup, she said.

"They were compensated while they were not at work at the hotel," said Ray. She could not discuss the details of that compensation, she said.

Ray said the roof collapse was the first for the hotel chain, which was established in 1984.

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