Philly port official: Cowboys knew of other failed canopies built by Summit

DALLAS -- The Dallas Cowboys knew when they hired Summit Structures LLC to build their now-ruined practice facility that a similar fabric structure built by the company for the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority had collapsed in a storm, according to a port official.

Greg Iannarelli, the port authority's chief counsel, said he was contacted by Cowboys official Bruce Mays not long after a warehouse built by Summit for the port collapsed during a snowstorm in February 2003. Iannarelli said the Cowboys were considering using Summit and were concerned.

"My recollection is they wanted to know what happened, and we weren't sure at the time," he told The Associated Press.

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Summit, based in Allentown, Pa., received permission from the City of Irving to begin construction on the Cowboys' facility in July 2003. The 88,000-square-foot building fell in high winds last month, leaving a scouting assistant paralyzed from the waist down and injuring 11 others less severely.

Iannarelli said he had several other conversations with Mays, the Cowboys' director of football operations, over the next three years. He said he also sent Mays a copy of a Philadelphia judge's decision in December 2006 stating that the warehouse's collapse was due to design flaws.

"We spoke about our position, what we believed was the cause of the collapse," Iannarelli said.

Iannarelli confirmed the conversations after the port authority provided the AP with a page from his phone-message log showing he was contacted by Mays on Sept. 25, 2006. The document was turned over to the AP in response to a request for information under Pennsylvania's Right to Know law.

Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple said the team would have no comment. Mays declined to discuss the conversations.

"If my name's on a (message slip) there, it means I must have talked to (the port), but I can't make any comment," he said.

The 102,000-square-foot warehouse at the Philadelphia port collapsed less than two months after it opened. The building was unoccupied when it fell.

Although the incident generated little publicity, it resulted in a protracted legal battle between the port authority and Summit. It ended with Common Pleas Court Judge Allan Tereshko ruling that the structure collapsed in conditions "that would have easily been tolerated ... had the building been properly designed and constructed." The company agreed to pay the port $4.8 million to settle the lawsuit.

Another company was hired by the port to rebuild the warehouse.

The Summit engineer listed as responsible for the design of the Cowboys' facility also was in charge of overseeing the Philadelphia project, The Dallas Morning News has reported.

Iannarelli also said he learned through Mays that the Cowboys had a "roof issue." He said he referred Mays to an expert witness that the port authority used to help identify the cause of the warehouse collapse.

"I got the sense that Summit and Dallas were working cooperatively to identify the cause (of the problem) and fix it," he said.

The Cowboys replaced the roof of their facility last year, according to City of Irving records.

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The Cowboys' facility is at least the fifth fabric structure built by Summit or a related company, Cover-All Building Systems, to collapse since 2002.

A warehouse-type building in upstate New York collapsed in February 2007, and an indoor arena for horse competition in Oregon fell in January 2002, according to court records. Both collapses occurred in heavy snow.

Additionally, an aircraft shade covering made by Summit collapsed in April 2002 at the Naval air station in El Centro, Calif., according to a Navy spokesman. The spokesman declined to provide details, citing the fact that the matter is the subject of a pending complaint over payment by the general contractor.

In a 2004 deposition taken as part of the Philadelphia port case, Summit president Nathan Stobbe attributed the El Centro collapse to F-14 fighter jets being flown through the open-ended structure.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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