About 40 employees of the recently expanded Hollings Marine Laboratory on James Island were kicked out of their new offices and labs after officials discovered structural deficiencies they say endanger the workers' safety.
Now the contractor responsible for the $8.5 million expansion, completed a year ago, is on the hook to fix problems in a redesign effort that is expected to take more than a year to complete.
"The buildings are not designed appropriately and remedial measures will likely be intensive," reads an excerpt of an engineering study cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that runs the lab. A plan to fix the building is under development, according to NOAA.
The problems were discovered this summer. Officials remain mum about the specific nature of the problems and the cost of fixing them.
A spokesman for the contractor, SEI Group Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., declined comment.
"Given the situation there, we would defer to NOAA," SEI Group Vice President Brian Osterndorf said. "We are doing the work at their behest."
NOAA spokesman Ben Sherman said in an e-mail that the new wings were "under-designed" and did not meet code requirements for load-bearing, making them "at risk of failure." He declined to elaborate.
In addition to the load-bearing deficiencies, the structure also does not meet the building code for hurricanes and earthquakes.
"The number of deficiencies leaves the building susceptible to failure ...," Sherman wrote.
He did not respond to questions involving how the deficiencies were discovered or why SEI Group was selected as the contractor.
The expansion, under construction for two years and federally funded through NOAA's National Ocean Service, was intended to provide more office and lab space, Sherman wrote. He did not respond to a question requesting the building's size.
The displaced employees were moved into "rearranged office and research space within the other office, lab and IT operation areas," Sherman wrote.
Despite some gentle griping, the lab's employees have come back to the main building, Hollings Marine Laboratory Director Susan N. White said.