Inspectors Cite Millennium Tower in Window Failure

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit obtained the violation notice on Monday, which requires the “unsafe” window condition be immediately rectified and an engineering report be completed by Tuesday.

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San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection has issued a violation notice at the Millennium Tower after a window failure there on Sunday sent shards of glass raining 41 stories down around the sinking and tilting building.

NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit obtained the violation notice on Monday, which requires the “unsafe” window condition be immediately rectified and an engineering report be completed by Tuesday.

No one was injured in the mid-morning incident on Sunday, but the glass cleanup forced the temporary shutdown of the nearby Transbay transit center park and bus terminal adjacent to the building.

In a statement, the Millennium Tower Homeowner’s Association called the “unfortunate isolated incident” a product of “Mother Nature and human error.”

The error, the association said, occurred when a resident of a unit overlooking the Transbay transit center “inadvertently” left their  41st floor unit window open, which then broke in gale-force winds.

Residents said in interviews Monday, however, that they weren’t alerted to shut their windows before the windstorm, only after the failure. Many windows were back open at the tower as of Monday.

“Just when you think it’s safe to go outside of the Millennium Tower, it’s raining glass,” said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin in an interview Monday in which he stressed that Sunday’s failure was not Millennium’s first window problem.

On Sept. 1, 2018, a  36th floor window suddenly fractured.  An engineering firm blamed that failure on a still unexplained exterior impact, concluding that it was not the product of the building’s sinking and tilting. Those findings were reviewed and backed by a city-appointed panel of experts, and the city allowed protective scaffolding to be removed.

But Peskin says the latest mishap should trigger a new, thorough investigation.

He said the city should expect that high-rise windows – open or not – would be able to withstand mega earthquakes as well as hurricane-force winds.

“We’re obviously all very pleased that nobody was hurt or injured, but the city should take this seriously and not brush this glass under the carpet,” he said.

The Millennium’s large transom style windows extend out several inches – that’s a design experts suggest could put them at greater risk of failure when left open in high winds.  

“I think it’s time for us to compel the developer and the Homeowners Association to come forward with a full assessment of the window systems and what steps they are going to take to make sure other windows don’t fail,” Peskin concluded.

But for now, the DBI notice only calls for the immediate window replacement and a full engineering report by Tuesday. The notice also requires that the association provide protective facing for a second cracked window inspectors found on the sixth floor.

City inspectors say that while that second crack was found on the same side of the building as the failed window, they aren’t sure yet if the sixth-floor cracking was the product of falling debris.  The city wants the homeowners association to analyze that failure as well.

Meanwhile, the $100 million planned fix on the tilting building – which involves shoring up two sides in a plan already approved by the city – is apparently bogged down in legal wrangling and the work isn’t projected to begin until the summer at the earliest.

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