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Company: Cowboys' roof replaced for looks in '08, not structural issue

DALLAS -- The company that built the Dallas Cowboys' indoor practice facility that collapsed this spring is telling its customers that the ill-fated fabric structure got a new roof last year because of team concerns about "aesthetics," not structural problems.

Nathan Stobbe of Summit Structures LLC included the explanation in a letter sent to customers of the Allentown, Pa.-based company. The letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, seeks to reassure customers that their buildings are safe.

"Please be assured that your buildings have been designed, engineered and manufactured to meet or exceed all local applicable building codes," Stobbe wrote.

The Cowboys' 80,000-square-foot facility collapsed May 2, the fifth Summit building known to have fallen in the last seven years. A member of the team's scouting department was paralyzed from the waist down and 11 other people were injured less severely.

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The roof was replaced in 2008 "after discussions with the Cowboys organization to improve the aesthetics of the building and had nothing to do with structural issues," Stobbe said in the letter.

But a person with knowledge of the Cowboys' facility at the time of the roof repair said there were several troubling issues, none of them related to the way the building looked. Among the issues cited by the person were defects in the fabric that could have caused structural problems if not repaired. The person, a building industry source, was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

In a written statement to AP, Stobbe acknowledged that there were "small holes in the fabric" that could have caused "small leaks," but he said they posed no structural problems.

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said the team would not comment.

The facility was built in 2003. City of Irving records provide few details about the roof replacement five years later.

Greg Iannarelli, chief counsel for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, told the AP he suggested the Cowboys hire an expert on building failures after learning from Bruce Mays, the team's director of football operations, that the practice facility had a "roof issue" in 2006. At the time, the port had sued Summit after a warehouse built by the company collapsed in a snow storm in 2003.

The Dallas Morning News has reported that a Las Vegas engineering firm, JCI, was engaged by Summit to deal with the roof issue. A former employee of the firm, Jeffrey Galland, told the newspaper he had recommended major structural reinforcements. Most of the recommendations were carried out by Summit, he said.

Galland did not respond to an e-mail message from the AP, and the company's president, Scott Jacobs, declined to be interviewed.

Among the recipients of Stobbe's letter was Texas A&M University, where one of Summit's largest buildings, a nearly 191,000-square-foot complex for track and football, was completed last year at a cost of $35.6 million.

Less than three weeks after the university received the letter, a three-person team from Summit conducted a two-day inspection of the track portion of the structure, an area that encompasses more than 115,000 square feet, and found no concerns, university records show. The football facility wasn't inspected, according to the records.

Texas A&M officials did not respond to multiple messages from the AP seeking to learn whether the university sought an independent inspection. Instead, the university system issued a statement saying it has "no reason to be concerned at this point."

The letter from Stobbe also says the fabric used in the Cowboys' 2008 roof replacement was the "same material" that has passed the hurricane testing requirements of Miami-Dade County, Fla. However, county records show only one company, Sprung Instant Structures Inc., with that approval.

"Unless you have a Dade County notice of acceptance, you cannot claim that your product is Dade County-approved," said Helmy Makar, the county engineer who approved Sprung's plans.

In response, Stobbe told AP the fabric met Miami-Dade standards when tested independently.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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