Learning from a project – Post-mortem
Collapse of the Royal Palm Resort Guam
The Royal Palm Resort Guam, a new 220-unit 12-story hotel and condominium complex, collapsed just 18 days after opening. On August 8, 1993 at 6:35P.M., Guam was struck by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that lasted for a minute. The resort consisted of a Beachside Tower and a Roadside Tower, which were constructed of reinforced concrete. The partial collapse on the Beachside Tower was the result of poorly reinforced columns that were unable to withstand the magnitude 8.1 earthquake. Where did the mistakes begin?
The investors of the Royal Palm Resort Guam hired a firm to oversee the design and development of the resort. The firm represents the role of a project manager (PM). “[P]roject management consists of planning, organizing, and controlling work” (Russell, 2000, p. 3). Meaning, PMs are interested in forming a scope of work (SOW), identifying stakeholders, identifying resources, knowing budgets, sticking to a plan, enforcing timelines, and conveying results to the proper authority. PMs are given a large responsibility of completing major projects.
The firm’s architectures structurally designed the building with input from various subject-matter experts (SME) in the form on structural engineers, civil engineers, designers, and other necessary members. A contractor was selected based on the mutual agreement of the firm, the investors, and the SMEs. Prior to the contractor receiving the design, the investors wanted to reduce the costs of the building by changing their structural engineer to someone who would approve of a cheaper budget. A change of scope is not uncommon and it is not necessarily a problem (Greer, 2010). In fact, scope changes can be beneficial when they allow the project to be under budget or allows for a quicker completion of the project. The new structural engineer surmised that the columns could be reduced in size.
In comparison, if the top of a soda cup from a restaurant was the original width, then the bottom of the cup represented the new width of the column. The reduced columns did meet the structural requirement of having the building withstand winds of up to 140mph, and the overall project was cheaper than anticipated. However, the column had fewer rebar reinforcement to withstand a strong earthquake.
Years after the collapse, the courts ruled that the contractor was at fault, even though the structural engineer signed off on the documents. “Ultimately this resulted in the total loss of a $70 million hotel, just weeks after its completion and total financial losses that more than doubled the building’s construction cost” (Hamburger, n.d., p. 2). The firm, acting as the PM, should have been firm and denied the client’s request to change the structural engineer.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/courses/59896/CRS-CW-5089754/EDUC_6145_readings/PM-Minimalist-Ver-3-Laureate.pdf
Hamburger, R. (n.d.). Structural Failures: A case study. Structural Engineering Institute. Retrieved from http://content.seinstitute.org/files/pdf/StructuralFailures_guam.pdf.
Russell, L. (2000). Project management for trainers. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.