Trailhead site construction beam shift prompts concern

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Temporary pilings shore up the construction site of the proposed Tailhead Visitor’s Center and a major beam shift cause quite a stir on the island. No one was injured in the incident. Photo courtesy of Catalina Island Conservancy

It didn’t take long for word to spread throughout Avalon after a major beam within the Santa Catalina Conservancy Trailhead Visitor Center project slipped and, for a moment, lost its footing and posed significant danger to the construction project.

The Avalon Fire Department and other city officials were quickly on the scene as construction was halted and workers moved to safety as inspectors sought to determine what had happened.

City Planning Director Amanda Cook gave a report on the incident at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, calling it a “minor setback” in the overall scheme of the construction.

She, and others, however conceded that given the potential for catastrophe, the accident could have been much worse.

“Somebody failed to do their job,” said councilman Joe Sampson, adding that he did not necessarily agree with her assessment that it was “minor setback” for the project. “This could have been a major catastrophe for the city and the Conservancy,” he said.

He termed the incident a “major oversight” and said it was “closer to catastrophic, not a minor glitch.

He asked Cook and city officials to get with consultants, engineers and contractors to “make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Cook said a center beam slipped off the center post and although it had the potential to caus damage, no one on the job site or the public seemed to be at risk after the incident. She said the city and project inspectors were on the scene quickly and emergency workers temporarily shored up the beam until experts could be called.

According to Cook, the Conservancy called two major companies on the Island and had a temporary fix by Monday afternoon. She said a team of inspectors, including the city’s building inspector, examined the fix and began to let workers back on the site the next day.

Santa Catalina Conservancy CEO Tony Budrovich, attending Tuesday’s meeting, quickly stepped in to say he did not necessarily appreciate Sampson’s characterization but will always be open for city input.

“I can assure you this is going to be the finest construction on this island,” said Budrovich. He said the building is being constructed to meet LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

While not minimizing the incident, Budrovich said inspectors informed him that the beam shifted because an epoxy that was supposed to be under the beam had not been applied.

“No one got hurt,” said Budrovich and “not a single worker has ever left the worksite with any injury. “Safety is always a top priority,” he added.

Further, Budrovich said “this building (Trailhead Visitor’s Center) will open this summer as scheduled,” adding that the advanced construction techniques will make it the most advanced building on the island. The facility will to meet all of the Title 24 earthquake standards issued by the state, he said.

Budrovich said even the column had completely given way, there would have been no total collapse of the structure, citing redundancy in the design. Further, he suggested by the end of this week the construction will be back on track completely and only set the opening back a few days.

According to an earlier press release, the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Trailhead Visitor Center is the flagship project of the organization’s Imagine Catalina long-range strategic vision and master plan. Exposing the exciting story of Catalina’s natural history, the wildness and beauty of the Island, its educational programming and the important conservation work is critical to the mission of the Conservancy with the over 1 million annual visitors to the Island. Visitors will gain easier access to natural, educational and recreational options to fully enjoy the wonders of Catalina Island.

When opened to the public, the Trailhead Visitor Center, located in the heart of Avalon on Crescent Avenue (the former Catherine Hotel site), will serve as “Catalina’s wildlands concierge.” The Trailhead will expose hundreds of thousands of visitors and residents to the biodiversity of one of California’s Channel Islands archipelago, which is sometimes called the “Galapagos of California.”

The state-of-the-art facility will be Catalina’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building, utilizing sustainable features such as natural lighting, water reclamation, and solar panels. The building will offer multipurpose exhibition and interpretive education space, and will serve as the primary launch point to learn about Catalina’s ecology and natural history. The Trailhead will serve as a portal to the wild side through the Conservancy’s popular, naturalist-led Jeep Eco Tours, the Wildlands Express Shuttle, the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden and its nature centers in Avalon and at the Airport in the Sky.

It will also be a place to get information about hiking, biking, and camping on the Island.

The building will have a small café and provide a new community gathering spot.

There will be plenty of space to host conservation and education programs, workshops, lectures, and exhibitions.

The Trailhead will dramatically improve the Conservancy’s presence in Avalon, exposing both residents and visitors to the organization’s vital mission to be a responsible steward of our lands through a balance of conservation, recreation, and education.

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