Is Music Hall safe? Protestors say non-certified welders erecting new ceiling

By Jim DeBrosse,

Another major Cincinnati construction job — the $129-million renovation of Music Hall that began this month — is facing accusations that contractors are trimming costs by using non-certified welders and risking the safety of the project.

About eight protestors organized by the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, a nonprofit pro-labor group, have been displaying informational banners and signs this week along Elm Street in front of the Over-the-Rhine renovation site.

The protesters say about a dozen welders on the project – hired by Merit Erectors and its sister company Avenue Fabricating Inc., both local steel construction firms – have the same fake welding certificates that Merit submitted last fall for the $86-million Nippert Stadium renovation at the University of Cincinnati.

Mitch Oberding, an ironworker with 20 years of welding experience and one of the CIWC protesters, said CIWC obtained and examined copies of Merit’s welding certificates for the UC project. “They aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” Oberding said. “There were dead guys on there and guys who didn’t work (at Merit Erectors) anymore.”

Oberding said the welding inspector who allegedly signed the 2015 certificates has been retired since 2007. Jeff Jones, the welding inspector whose name appears on 14 of Merit’s welding certificates, told Fox19 last fall that his name had been falsified on all 14 documents.

A welding certificate is proof that a welder has been properly trained and can produce a weld that has passed a professional inspection for safety and durability.

Oberding said plans for the Music Hall renovation call for replacing massive wooden trusses built into the ceiling in the 1800s with modern steel trusses that will be cut and welded in place for support. The general contractor on the Music Hall project, Messer Construction, “doesn’t have any idea what they’re getting into,” Oberding said. “We’re talking about the structural integrity of the building.”

Last September, Merit Erectors and Avenue Fabricating faced similar accusations on the Nippert Stadium renovation at the University of Cincinnati after Fox19 reported that the welding certificates on the project had been falsified.

Messer used Merit Erectors on the $112-million University of Kentucky science center in October of last year with the same faked welding credentials, Fox19 reported.

Messer is “using the exact same company again” at Music Hall, Oberding said. “That was purposely done to show how easy it is to cheat” when turning in welding certificates.

Adam Kinman, a former welder for Merit Erectors who said he quit last summer because of a pay and benefits dispute, said he recognized at least eight Merit welders working on the Music Hall site last week.

Messer Construction and the overall developer of the Music Hall project, 3CDC, did not return phone calls or emails asking for comment. Merit Erector owner Chris Koenig has repeatedly refused opportunities to comment on the company’s practices.