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More problems for 2 Peachtree Building

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Stressed structure

Rough elevator ride is state building's latest complaint


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The 2 Peachtree Building looms over the street it's named for at Five Points in downtown Atlanta.

A woman trapped in an elevator that she says fell about 20 floors is the latest problem to beset the 2 Peachtree Building at Five Points downtown, which the state of Georgia already has spent $112 million to renovate.

"It dropped like a rock," said Kathy Blount-Driggers, who boarded the elevator on the 36th floor of the 41-story tower, punched the button for the 1st floor and then prayed for dear life as she felt the elevator shake and plunge.

"If you've ever seen the movie, it was like the re-entry scene in 'Apollo 13,' " said Blount-Driggers, chief of managed care with the Georgia Department of Community Health.

"I was sure I was going to die."

Only 10 days before her harrowing elevator ride on Dec. 10, part of the facade of the 2 Peachtree building worked loose in high winds. A sidewalk beneath it, at the Five Points MARTA station, was closed for five days because of fears pedestrians could be hit by debris.

The Georgia Building Authority, which manages the 37-year-old tower at the corner of Peachtree and Marietta streets, maintains the structure is sound. But not everybody in the building believes that.

The Composite State Board of Medical Examiners last week sent a letter to the authority saying it wants out because it fears the tower is unsafe.

About 2,500 state employees work in the building, most of them with the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Community Health.

The 2 Peachtree building has been plagued with problems since it was donated to the state in 1992 by the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. The donation was intended to keep workers downtown at a time when companies were fleeing the business district.

The state initially estimated the repairs would cost $50 million and take five or six years to complete.

But removal of asbestos from the building, and other costs --including furniture and a telephone system and computers and security -- have cost taxpayers an additional $65 million in repairs and upgrades and dragged renovations into a second decade.

The renovation budget is now $115 million, with $112 million already spent. The authority projects it will be finished with repairs in about 18 months.

In the Medical Board's letter to the Building Authority, the group's president, Dr. Grace V. Davis, wrote that staffers in the board's offices on the 36th floor could feel the building sway "in an alarming manner" on windy days.

Recent problems with the buckling facade and the elevator accident were "disconcerting," she wrote. "We fear for the safety of ourselves, the board staff, other tenants in the building and members of the public who must visit our office."

All tall buildings sway

But the Building Authority's executive director, J. Ray Crawford, said Monday that 2 Peachtree is safe and all tall buildings sway in the wind because that's the way they are designed.

"Did we have some problems with the building? Yes," said Crawford. "Were we concerned with the [dislodged facade] last December, and are elevator problems a concern? Yes. But every building with elevators will have elevator problems.

"Does that mean the building is falling down? No. It is structurally sound." He said he is looking into the Medical Board's request, adding: "I'm not sure we're going to move them out."

LaSharn Hughes, executive director of the board, which has a staff of about 30, said as of Tuesday she had not heard from Crawford, but she had been contacted by a state agency about her letter. She would not name the agency or elaborate.

Renovating and repairing the building, floor by floor, has been difficult, and at times frustrating for the building's work crews.

Bob Satterfield, director of the Building Authority's Facilities Division, took a reporter on a tour of the building Jan. 23, showing where the dislodged facade on the 16th floor was held in place with cables and bolts. The repair is temporary and the facade will have to be replaced.

"To get these glasses out you can't just take them out, you have to cut them out," he said motioning at the jury-rigging. "Nothing's easy."

Jed Nitzberg, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, played down the number of complaints about building safety coming from his workers.

"If we're getting questions from people about the building, it's about repair schedules," he said, "not the building falling apart.

"If the commissioner and leadership of DHR felt there were safety concerns, we would not have employees working in this building."

But Andy Boisseau, spokesman for the Department of Community Health, said fears about 2 Peachtree have been the "buzz of the building" since Blount-Driggers' accident.

'Like running into a brick wall'

Blount-Driggers believes the elevator fell about 20 floors before it slammed to a stop -- "like running into a brick wall" -- and she was flung to the floor and the overhead light fixture came loose and hit her on the head.

It took 20 minutes before building security got her out of the elevator on the 2nd floor. Her knees were bruised and her hair and clothing were covered with dust and debris.

"I was crying; my legs were like jelly," she said. But she refused immediate medical attention.

She said so far doctors have found no permanent injury: "I feel lucky just to be alive."

She still takes elevators in the building, but she said she never rides by herself in an elevator there again: "When I try, it makes me physically ill."

But investigations by Otis Elevator, which manages the building's elevators, and the Georgia Department of Labor determined the elevator did not "fall," although it may have descended faster than its usual 1,000 feet a minute.

The investigators determined that a roller guide bracket had broken and "safeties were engaged bringing the elevator to a sudden stop."

Technicians repaired the elevator and put it back into service by Dec. 12.

The Department of Labor, which is required to report and investigate all elevator accidents, said there have been no other elevator accidents in the building in the past 24 months.

Building Authority director Crawford said he will continue to monitor concerns about safety in 2 Peachtree and re-institute a "Tenant Talk" newsletter to keep employees informed of building maintenance and repairs. "I know some people don't like working in the building because of all the construction, the noise, and the location downtown," he said. "But it's not an unsafe building."

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I would never like to have such an experience. Hell, parashooting may be a much safer "sport" than taking an elevator at 2 Peachtree Building. Well, let's hope that no one else has similar experiences with that woman. If it was a 10-story building, I would say tear that thing down and build something safer, but 41 flooors is not a something they can replace easily. Let's hope they fix the stupid elevator system before people get killed.

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I've never been in a falling elevator that went down twenty floors. But I did have an experience in one that fell ~4 floors. That was a pretty crapty experience. It wasn't in 2 Peachtree either.

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I really really really wouldn't want to be in that elevator when it falls 20 floors. I've heard of them falling a few floors before, but not anything even close to 20.

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