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Engineers Examine State Office Building Structure

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Posted at 7:34 PM, Oct 22, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:25:52-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Structural engineers are taking a closer look at the condition of a major state office building, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned.

On Wednesday, Sky5HD spotted workers as they climbed to the top of the James K. Polk State Office Building, examining the huge anchors from which the office tower is suspended.

The Polk building, which houses about a thousand state workers, was the subject of an emergency evacuation last month as a result of unexplained vibrations.

Those vibrations were felt inside inside the Downtown Hair Salon a half a block away, prompting some startled reactions.

"What was that?" hairstylist Rae Hayes recalled asking. "I mean everybody felt it and nobody knew what it was."

Hayes said that, while they had experienced blasting before, this was different. "I wouldn't exactly expect a blast to be so long lasting. It was a little more than that."

Inside the tower, the sensation was even more pronounced.

Brent Hyams, chief operating officer of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, was in his office in the tower.

"It felt almost like someone was jumping up and down or something on the floor below us or above us," Hyams recalled.

"It was just kind of a slight vibration, but it lasted a little bit longer than normal."

Built in the late 70s, the 18-story office tower is suspended from heavy-duty anchors that are attached to a concrete core. Those anchors are held together by a series of high-tension cables.

In the late 90s, engineers discovered evidence of corrosion on one of those cables, forcing the state in 2001 to conduct rehab work on those anchors.

Yet, during the evacuation, when NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked whether there were concerns about the structure from which the entire building is suspended, a spokesperson for the state Department of General Services responded with an emphatic "no."

Kelly Smith later issued a statement claiming that such "movement and vibrations occasionally occur" in heavily loaded structural steel facilities.

Yet, state emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show the concerns were more serious than officials wanted to admit.

One email from a Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reported there might have been a "structural cable snap."

An official in the State Architect's Office replied: "we have to stop this rumor."

Still, the state immediately called in the structural engineers who had studied that anchor system before.

They eventually gave the OK for state employees to return.

But the incident highlighted recommendations that those engineers made three years ago in a report, recommending that those anchors be reinspected in the summer of 2013.

That never happened.

Engineers recently emailed, that "examination is overdue."

So far, according to General Services spokesperson David Roberson, engineers "have found no indication of any life safety issues or any indicators of structural or other significant problems with the building."

Engineers will eventually draw up a report, showing exactly what they've found.

Read selected emails regarding Polk building incident

Read 1997 review of Polk building structure

Read follow-up 1997 review of Polk building structure

Review 2011 review of Polk building structure