Safety Concerns Rekindled after Window Pane Falls from Bethesda Building

Safety Concerns Rekindled after Window Pane Falls from Bethesda Building

County investigating, orders sidewalks closed around East West Highway office

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF AMANDA FARBER

Sidewalks around a Bethesda office building have been ordered closed until inspectors can determine why at least one glass window pane broke loose and shattered on the pavement Monday afternoon.

Similar problems were reported 18 months ago at the building at 4500 East West Highway, less than two blocks from the Metro Center office and hotel complex in the heart of Bethesda’s business district.

County Director of Permitting Services Diane Schwartz Jones said she is aware of three instances of windowpanes falling from the building since 2017, and county officials have ordered the blocks adjacent to the property closed until they are able to determine the cause and a solution.

“If it’s a one-time occurrence, that can happen for any number of reasons … but clearly there’s more that needs to be done at this point,” she said. “I know it will be an inconvenience (to close the sidewalks), but I’d rather inconvenience people to keep them safe for a short time to really understand what’s going on here.”

No injuries have been reported.

The property manager, Danielle Lowther, did not return multiple calls seeking comment. In 2017, Carr Properties, the company that owns the building, blamed the issues on faulty windowpanes.

Bethesda resident Naya Robitaille says she was nearly struck by a window panel that fell from the same building in April 2017 and is frustrated by the continued issues.

“It’s not going to make me feel better until they raze that building, to be honest,” Robitaille said. “If you can’t fix it by replacing the windows, something is wrong and you should maybe start over or something.”

Sidewalk barricades were set up outside of the building on Tuesday afternoon, blocking pedestrian access to the area, but Robitaille said the pane “exploded like a bomb,” when it hit the ground, sending glass shards into the street.

“What they put up around the building to mitigate potential injury isn’t going to help someone if they’re on the other side of the barrier,” she said. “They’ve been so lucky nobody’s been hit.”

Schwartz Jones said she was unaware of glass spreading into the street, but believed closing the width of the sidewalks would adequately protect pedestrians, who are being redirected to sidewalks across the street.

Built by Clark Construction, the 330,000-square-foot, $39 million building opened in 2014 and received praise from county leaders for its “world class” environmentally-friendly design. There is ground-floor retail and office tenants on the upper levels.

Clark representatives declined comment Tuesday afternoon.

Montgomery County Council District 1 representative Andrew Friedson, who represents Bethesda, called the falling window panes a “serious situation” and is pleased with the county’s quick response to Monday’s occurrence.

“Regardless of where it is, having glass panes dropping from high buildings is just not an acceptable or safe situation,” Friedson said. “I hope DPS, the property owners and building engineers can resolve the situation as quickly as possible to make sure the tenants and pedestrians can utilize the space freely and without concern of extremely dangerous projectiles falling.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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