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A&M wants independent study of facility

DALLAS -- Texas A&M University has requested an independent safety analysis of the school's massive new athletic center, a steel and fabric structure that was built by the same company that erected the collapsed Dallas Cowboys indoor practice facility.

Texas A&M interim president R. Bowen Loftin ordered the independent analysis on Monday, and the university is now in the process of identifying a firm qualified to do the job, according to an e-mail sent to The Associated Press by a university spokesman.

The spokesman, Jason Cook, wrote Wednesday that the building on the school's College Station campus meets university construction standards and has withstood previous weather events.

However, an independent evaluation is warranted, he wrote, "to ensure the ongoing safety of our student-athletes, coaches and guests."

The Texas A&M building is one of the largest built by Summit Structures LLC of Allentown, Pa.

The Cowboys' facility collapsed in a wind storm May 2, paralyzing a member of the team's scouting department from the waist down and injuring 11 others less severely. It was the fifth designed by Summit known to have collapsed in the past seven years.

The 191,000-square-foot McFerrin Athletic Center at Texas A&M houses both an indoor football practice facility and a track. It was completed last year at a cost of $35.6 million.

Cook told the AP that Texas A&M is acting now because Loftin, who has been on the job since June 15, has just recently familiarized himself with a variety of campus issues, including questions about the McFerrin complex.

"There was no precipitating concern," Cook said.

Loftin's request was made just five days after a spokesman for the Texas A&M University System responded to a query from the AP by saying the system believed a previous inspection by Summit was sufficient.

Records obtained by the AP show that a three-person team from the company inspected the track portion of the building, which covers 115,000 square feet, on May 27 and 28 and found no problems. The football side wasn't inspected at the time, according to the records.

A spokeswoman for Summit said the company would have no comment.

Officials at two other universities have told the AP that they also have ordered independent inspections of Summit-built sports facilities on their campuses.

Jim Baker, associate athletic director for events and operations at the University of Texas, said the school had a "third-party review" of a Summit facility currently under construction on the roof of the school's Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Center. The 20,000-square-foot structure, part of a $27 million stadium renovation, will be used for offseason training and as a gathering place for fans on game days.

Baker said the result of the inspection has yet to be put in writing, but the school has been informed that no concerns were found.

Tim Cass, senior associate athletic director at the University of New Mexico, said the university has ordered an independent inspection of its indoor football practice facility, which was built by Summit in 2007. He said the inspection, which has yet to be completed, is largely a way to check the work of a Summit team that found no problems when it inspected the building on May 26.

"It's just a matter of confirming what we already know," Cass said. "Certainly, we think it's a healthy exercise."

Wayne Rendely, a structural engineer in Huntington Station, N.Y., who specializes in fabric buildings, said it makes sense to have "fresh eyes" review a project because the company behind it might be blind to its mistakes.

"If they thought two plus two equals five, they're going to look at their work and say, 'Very good. Check.' " he said.