Hangars need repair

K.I. SAWYER – The Marquette County Board recently approved spending $150,000 to repair ceilings in at least eight hangars at Sawyer International Airport where spray-on fire barrier has been falling, in big sections, from the ceilings.

The board will fund the repairs from the Airport Stabilization Fund, while looking to determine the cause and who might be liable for the failures.

“Bottom line: When you get work like this done, you expect it to last longer than five or six years,” said Commissioner Gregory Seppanen.

Sawyer International Airport Manager Duane DuRay and Sawyer Operations Manager Steven Schenden detailed the problem in a recent memo to the county board.

They said the spray-on fire barrier was installed over spray-on insulation in a dozen hangars at the airport from 2004 through 2009, during various hangar renovation projects.

Of the 12 hangars, eight have shown at least small damage.

The fire (thermal) barrier has the properties of cement, but is lightweight, about a half-inch thick and has been falling from the ceilings in the hangars in sections measuring three to four feet across.

According to the memo, two of the hangars were among the first to get the spray-on fire barrier treatment and have shown minor failures. In two other hangars, failures in the thermal barrier were discovered before the project to install it was finished.

In those two hangars, a repair was undertaken, which has so far not failed.

The spray-on thermal barrier was removed and replaced with a paint thermal barrier. In a fire, the paint barrier swells and provides occupants of the building 15 minutes to exit the structure before the barrier fails and materials in the ceiling ignite, Schenden said.

Three hangars have the most severe damage and are not currently being used. Boreal Aviation leases two of those hangars and is using other hangar space until the repairs are finished. The third badly-damaged hangar is slated to be used this winter for shooting a movie, and airport staff has received two additional inquiries about using the hangar this winter.

At no cost, Mead and Hunt prepared drawings, specifications and bid materials to repair those three badly-damaged hangars. The firm was the consultant on the original project to install the fire barrier.

County board members are hoping to conclusively discover the root cause of the problem and who might be held responsible.

“Obviously, there’s something wrong and we should find out why,” Commissioner Bruce Heikkila said.

County civil counsel Stephen Adamini said there could be several reasons for the problem.

“Now, we’re six or seven years down the road here,” Adamini said. “That makes it difficult.”

Commissioner Steven Pence agreed.

“Besides the number of parties, there’s a number of variables involved,” Pence said.

The Schenden and DuRay memo said contractors and consultants have suggested several issues which could be the possible cause of the barrier not adhering to the insulation, including flexing in the large flat roofs, temperature of the water used in the spraying process and air temperature during installation.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.