By George Volsky

When the Coral Gables Museum was inaugurated  last week, a structural crack was detected in the recently reconstructed and expanded building. City engineers, apprised of the discovery are investigating the cause and extent of the problem. According to several architects and engineers with long experience in the building sector, the flaw could be serious and is so elementary that it defies comprehension why and how it had originated.

The embarrassing discovery has reportedly shaken the museum’s administration. Other reports indicate that there might be other structural problems in the museum, the property of  Coral Gables and administered by a private not-for-profit entity under a contract with the city.

The crack, clearly visible on the wall, marks a place where the museum’s original old  building, the fire and police station constructed  in the 1930s, joins an addition on its northern side. The addition reminds artists of an inflated, lifeless  Roman-temple, with more than a touch of Botero, which, because of its disproportionally large size,  overwhelms and  detracts from the charm of the slender and graceful original edifice.

“We shall investigate the problem to discover what had happened and see what to do next.” said Glenn Kephart, director of the Public Works department. Kephart refusing to speculate on what might have caused the crack. His reticence was probably justified by the fact that while Public Works routinely normally supervises work on all city properties, and has trained experts for it, its personnel was purposely kept away from the museum project.  The supervision of the museum $5.9 million job, which started about four years ago, was placed by the then city manager David Brown entirely in the hands of Kara Kautz, a friend of the family of former mayor Don Slesnick,  whom Brown had recently hired even though she didn’t have city-required qualification to be the city’s Historic Preservation Officer.  It was Kautz who had certified the completion of each of the project’s construction stages and under her signature, the developer and the architect, Jorge Hernandez, were paid by the city.

For  construction experts the origin of the crack isn’t  a mystery. “Whenever an old building joins a new one professional builders place  special flexible expansion devises between the two,” one architect said. “Even a novice constructor, let alone a first year architecture student, knows that foundations of an old building are set, while those of a new taka a long time to firm up. What has happened here is that recent heavy rains made ground under the new building softer, resulting in its hair-like movement, not affecting the 75-year-old police station. The city should open the whole crack area and install an expansion joint to prevent a more serious problems and a permanent water leak.”

According to a Public Works official, who asked that his name be unmentioned because he was not authorized to speak for the department, during the museum construction, the builder poured tons of cement over a main gas line, making it very difficult to access. The gas company, which found out the error protested, stating it was a serious code violation. But according to the official,  Kautz, her supervisor Dona  Spain, architect Hernandez and the construction company decided not to do anything because removing a huge slab of cement over the gas line would be very costly and would cause considerable delays in the project’s construction.

Interestingly, for the museum inauguration its management printed a  catalog, called “Creating The Dream.” Several pages of the publication include pictures of the cleanly scrubbed building as it was a year ago, when the  reconstruction terminated. But today the whole building already  looks shabby and worn-out and, according to one prestigious resident, with a  grimy if not outright dirty northern side of its tower. “Every time I look at it,” the resident said, “ I am more convinced that it  shames the City Beautiful and maybe enen is a bad augury for the museum’s future.”

About Stephen E. McGaughey
Resident of the City of Coral Gables

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