Pearlridge parking structure built before safety code

A parking lot at Pearlridge Center remains open one day after a car nearly plunged over the edge. While police continue to investigate what happened, mall officials say the structure is safe.

On Tuesday, police say a driver hit a couple of parked cars and pushed one through the concrete safety barrier. Some of that concrete hit a truck below.

The incident triggered serious questions about building rules and safety. KHON2 learned that only newer parking structures, built within the last 15 years or so, are built to prevent this type of accident.

Steve Baldridge, president of Baldridge & Associates Structural Engineering, has been building structures in Hawaii for nearly 25 years. He says modern parking structures, like the one currently being built at Ala Moana Center, are safe and durable.

“You’ve got solid, concrete walls on the perimeter, which are there for vehicle safety and pedestrian safety,” Baldridge said. “You don’t want people to fall out of the garage.”

But up until the mid ’90s, Baldridge says there was no direction for design. “There wasn’t a specific load that an engineer had to design for to make sure the car didn’t come off the side of the building,” he said.

So parking structures, like the one at Pearlridge Center, which was built in the late ’80s, didn’t have safety guidelines to follow. At the time it was built, it did meet building codes.

Officials at Pearlridge Center don’t know how long the repairs will take, but say an outside engineer has deemed the parking structure safe. Several stalls are closed off while repairs are made, but the work doesn’t have to include any changes in design. Even though the rules have changed, structures built before the mid-’90s are grandfathered in.

“The older buildings met the code at the time, but current standards are better, so they’re not as safe as something that might be built today,” Baldridge said.

Many parking structures in downtown Honolulu were also created before safety provisions were put in place. Baldridge says one in particular, which features a glass rail tied to a structure with aluminum framing, may have been designed as a pedestrian barrier with the wheel or curb stop as the primary protection for a vehicle. Baldridge says that was a common practice back in the day.

“Hopefully, there’s something behind that glass that can take the impact load. It might be another cable barrier,” he said.

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