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A Panel Of Lawmakers Say Structural Engineers Need Practice Before Taking On Big Builds Solo

Construction workers
University of Salford Press Office's photostream

In 2007 the Berkman Plaza parking garage in Jacksonville collapsed killing a construction worker and injuring dozens. Tom Grogan, the Florida Structural Engineers licensure committee chair says that’s due in part to a novice engineer.

“And the person that designed that structure was a well-meaning individual who thought he could, but he didn’t have the background to. He was basically a professor at the University of Georgia with a license in Florida and it turned out he didn’t understand some of the basic concepts of structural engineering and that happened,” Gorgan says.

Keystone Heights Republican Representative Charles Van Zant says the structural engineering industry needs more oversight.

“You may have a situation where the developer says Henry come in here it’s already after lunch time on Friday we have to get these plans and building specifications down to the building department  for review you just sign and seal them and there will be a little bonus in your paycheck Friday," Van Zant says. "And so the guy that’s the PE on staff, but may not know anything about structural engineering, signs and seals the drawings, they get down there and the building collapses two years later. This is happening.”

Van Zant is sponsoring a bill that creates a specialized license for structural engineers and prohibits people from working the job without the license.

“Young engineer wants to pursue college, he’s got his degree, wants to pursue structural, just like a doctor might want to pursue brain surgery or heart surgery or orthopedic or something. Structural engineering is a separate discipline within the realm of engineering."

But some lawmakers like Orlando Democratic Representative Randolph Bracy worry Van Zant’s law creates something of a catch 22. He asked Van Zant about that during a hearing on the subject in the House Regulatory Affairs Committee.

“In your bill you are requiring four years of experience of structural engineering before they can get a license. But how do they get that experience if they don’t have a license,” Bracy asked.

Van Zant says the answer to that is simple – internships.

“So they would seek out a structural engineer to place themselves under for four years to practice and evaluate and learn to make the drawings and all the things that structural engineers do for four years and then he would at that point be eligible for qualification for a structural engineer,” Van Zant says.

Van Zant’s measure includes carveouts for existing engineers who are sole proprietors and can sign an affidavit attesting to their experience and would recognize those licensed in other states.  The measure passed the committee and heads next to the full House.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 |

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