MCM (Munilla Construction Management) built the Florida International University bridge in Miami that collapsed today. Construction on the pedestrian bridge had just recently been completed on March 10. MCM, owned by six brothers, already sent out a message on Facebook sharing thoughts and prayers about the collapse of the new UniversityCity Bridge and sharing that they intended to do an investigation into what caused the collapse. MCM is a well-known construction firm in the Florida area that is frequently rewarded multi-million-dollar contracts. But both Figg and MCM’s safety practices were questioned in previous incidents, and it’s recently been learned that a lead Figg engineer had noticed a crack in the bridge a couple days before the collapse. Here’s what you need to know about MCM. This is a developing story.
1. The Company Sent Thoughts & Prayers and Said They Will Conduct a Full Investigation
In a statement released on Facebook, MCM announced that they planned to conduct a full investigation into what happened. The statement read in full: “Our family’s thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. The new UniversityCity Bridge, which was under construction, experienced a catastrophic collapse causing injuries and loss of life. MCM is a family business and we are all devastated and doing everything we can to assist. We will conduct a full investigation to determine exactly what went wrong and will cooperate with investigators on scene in every way.”
Both MCM and Figg, who built and designed the bridge, are well-known companies with a long history of successful projects. Figg is known internationally, including designing the Cascades Park bridge in Tallahassee. Figg said in a statement that it was stunned by the bridge collapse. “Our deepest sympathies are with all those affected by this accident. We will fully cooperate with every appropriate authority in reviewing what happened and why. In our 40-year history, nothing like this has ever happened before. Our entire team mourns the loss of life and injuries associated with this devastating tragedy, and our prayers go out to all involved.”
Just a couple days before the bridge collapsed, W. Denney Pate, Figg’s lead engineer responsible for the project, called the Florida Department of Transportation and said “some cracking” had been observed and some repairs would have to be done, but they didn’t think there were any safety issues. The FDOT message was not heard until Friday, because the employee that Pate called had been out of the office. WFLA provided a transcript of the phone call, which you can read below:
“Hey Tom, this is Denney Pate with FIGG bridge engineers. Calling to, uh, share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend. Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that. At any rate, I wanted to chat with you about that because I suspect at some point that’s gonna get to your desk. So, uh, at any rate, call me back when you can. Thank you. Bye.”
2. The Bridge, Built & Designed by MCM and Figg Bridge Engineers, Was Installed Using ‘Accelerated’ Methods
In February 2016, it was announced that MCM and Figg Bridge Engineers would partner to build the UniversityCity Bridge. The pedestrian bridge cost $9.3 million, and MCM-FIGG were also contracted to build other related streetscape elements that would link Sweetwater with the northern entrance of FIU over Southwest 8th Street, FIU reported. FIU, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Florida Department of Transportation all approved the selection of MCM. Sweetwater and Miami-Dade Transit also participated in the selection process.
The bridge was part of an $11.4 million UniversityCity Prosperity Project, which would also included improving entrances to MMC and the 109th Avenue area, along with partnering with IBM to create a Smart Parking Software System. They completed the FIU Football Stadium Expansion in August 2012.
The bridge was installed using an accelerated construction method, New York Daily News reported. The 174-foot span was installed in just one day using Accelerated Bridge Construction. FIU reported: “This method of construction reduces potential risks to workers, commuters and pedestrians and minimizes traffic interruptions. The main span of the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge was installed in a few hours with limited disruption to traffic over this weekend.” However, New York Daily News reported that Professor Amjad Aref of the University of Buffalo was concerned that this new method might bring risks. He said: “The idea is that you can build small- to mid-size bridges very quickly, sometimes within hours. But until all the pieces are put together to transmit the loads safely to the foundations, these bridges may suffer disproportionate or full collapse due to instability.”
BDI was the engineering firm responsible for monitoring the structure, Miami Herald reported. The Louisville company had tested the Miami bridge in recent days, Daily Camera Louisville News reported. Jesse Grimson, VP at BDI, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear that the pedestrian bridge has collapsed at FIU. Our hearts go out to the individuals and families that have been affected by the collapse. We have removed comments from our social media accounts out of respect for the individuals and families that have been affected by the collapse.” The statement was in reference to BDI’s deleting a tweet from hours earlier that said it was proud of its structural monitoring of the bridge:
Barnhart Crane & Rigging, which helped move the bridge into place, released the following statement: “Barnhart Crane and Rigging is saddened by the news of the tragedy that occurred in Miami with the collapse of the Florida International University pedestrian bridge. Barnhart was contracted to move the bridge into place and was not involved in the design or construction of the bridge. Our scope of work was completed without incident and according to all technical requirements. Barnhart crews and equipment were not on site at the time of the incident. We will fully cooperate with authorities as they investigate the cause of the collapse. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event.”
3. MCM Was Sued by a TSA Employee and Figg Received Citations After a 2012 Bridge Project Collapse
Both FIGG and MCM have separately faced questions of unsafe practices in the past, although both companies are also nationally known and have a long history of successful projects that have had no issues. Miami New Times reported that on March 5, MCM was accused in a lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Civil Court of injuring a TSA employee at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. MCM was awarded a contract to expand the airport and had built a bridge through the area for airport workers to walk on so they could reach the restrooms during construction. The TSA employee, Jose Perez, was injured when the temporary bridge broke beneath him on October 20, 2016. His attorney said he had multiple broken bones and damage to his spine.
You can read the full complaint, filed on March 5, 2018 by Jose Perez against Munilla Construction Management, in the embedded document below:
Miami New Times also reported that in June 2012, a Figg-assembled bridge span in Virginia collapsed while under construction, while workers were installing a 90-ton concrete portion of the bridge. It dropped 40 feet onto the railroad tracks and four workers were minorly injured. Later, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry cited Figg Bridge Builders with four violations, each with a $7,000 fine, Pilot Online reported. One alleged that the builder didn’t get a manufacturer’s consent before modifying a girder used during construction that failed. However, Jay Withrow of the Department of Labor and Industry said they were not alleging that the citations contributed at all to the equipment failure in June 2012. Figg Project Manager W. Jay Rohleder said: “The incident that occurred during construction was a construction equipment property damage issue that had nothing to do with the final bridge. The proposed citation is not related to the structural integrity of the completed project in any way and is not the reason the erection truss required replacing.” Citations also said that Figg didn’t do daily, weekly, and monthly inspections of the girder. Both Figg Bridge Builders and Figg Bridge Engineers are based in Tallahassee and overseen by Linda Figg.
4. The Munillas’ $25 Million Contract with Miami-Dade Was Questioned in 2012, Along with a Photo Taken with Manafort
In 2012, Miami-Dade Commission Bruno Barreiro voted to award a $25 million contract to MCM for building a Metrorail test track in May and November. But the Miami Herald reported that his vote was questioned because he had rented office space from the firm’s owners for his campaign headquarters in between his two votes. He paid $700 a month for the property. Less than two months before his second vote, four members of the Munilla family contributed $500 each to Barreiro, the maximum contributions allowed. In 2011, Barreiro, then chair of the Regional Transportation Committee, sponsored a bill to give MCM a $50 million contract to do work at the Miami International Airport. He acknowledged that he was friends with some members of the family, the Miami Herald reported. However, he said that renting the office space did not create any conflict of interest. “If I got it free, it would be a conflict,” he told the Miami Herald. “I specifically made sure I paid rent.”
At one point in an unrelated report, Yan Jiehe of China, head of Pacific Construction Group, was looking into buying U.S. based construction firms, including MCM, Bisnow and The Real Deal reported. Paul Manafort had been meeting with Jiehe, and was seen in a photo with Jiehe and Jorge and Fernando Munilla, along with others. Brad Zackson, who owns a brokerage and investment firm, posted the photo on his website. MCM did not respond to inquiries from The Real Deal, but it appears that if Jiehe was considering buying MCM, it did not happen.
5. MCM Was Contracted to Build a New School for the Navy in Guantanamo Bay
According to their bio on Bloomberg, MCM “provides heavy civil and general building construction services for the education, aviation, commercial, municipal, and residential fields. The company builds roads and bridges, airports, treatment plants, government buildings, schools and high education facilities, healthcare facilities, commercial infrastructure, and transportation projects. Its services include pre-construction, value engineering, construction management, general contracting, building information modeling, and hard-bid; design-build, design-build-finance, and public private partnerships; and small business sub-contracting.”
In July 2016, MCM was awarded a $63 million contract from the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast to replace W.T. Sampson School. Their contract included building a pre-k through 12th grade elementary-middle-high school at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Guantanamo Bay, Bloomberg reported.
Reviews from employees who have worked at MCM are mostly positive, both on Indeed and Glassdoor. One former construction manager wrote in November 2017: “They have good projects to execute which need expert staff in the field and very responsible for the safety of their employees, you have all the resources at your disposal to execute a good project.” An operator wrote in April 2016: “I felt that upper management really wants things to go smoothly, and will reward employees who help in that regard.”