Contractors to begin dismantling portions of the Harmon this week

A view of the Harmon at MGM’s CityCenter looking westbound from a helicopter Monday, May 21, 2012.

Structural experts for CityCenter are scheduled as early as Thursday to begin chipping away at sections of concrete in the 26-story unfinished tower on the Las Vegas Strip. They'll be searching for evidence of construction defects they hope to present to a jury this summer.

MGM Resorts International, which owns half of CityCenter, seeks to prove flaws that halted construction on the $275 million Harmon four years ago were the fault of its former general contractor.

Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez ruled this week that CityCenter could proceed with what's called destructive testing as long as officials provided a detailed schedule of their plans. MGM officials filed that paperwork with the court Tuesday.

More than $400 million could be at stake in a complex series of lawsuits scheduled for two trials — the first set to begin this June — in a case that now has both sides altering their opinions about the building's safety.

One switch came from contractor Tutor Perini Building Corp., which had been defending the structure's soundness. The contractors have maintained up until this week that the Harmon could be repaired, and many defects occurred because the builders followed a bad design. Perini now says the building can't withstand testing.

The proposed testing involves cracking holes in the concrete to expose the steel reinforcement, or rebar, that CityCenter contends wasn't installed correctly.

When testing begins, crews will carve out 2-foot holes in the concrete. The process is expected to last for the next two weeks. CityCenter hopes to explore 481 areas of the building, examining 40 per day.

CityCenter began similar testing last year to look at 397 areas of the Harmon. But Gonzalez ruled last summer the testing was insufficient to show CityCenter's claims about the extent of the defects. That led CityCenter to seek more testing.

Attorneys for Perini argued this week that chipping away at the concrete might cause the whole building to tumble.

"Destructive testing is destructive," George Ogilvie III, a Las Vegas lawyer who represents Perini, said in a written argument.

Ogilvie said Perini's structural expert believes that exposing the steel will weaken the structure.

"While the Harmon, in its current condition, is not a safety hazard, the magnitude of CityCenter's additional destructive testing will damage the Harmon to such an extent that the building will become unsafe," Ogilvie said.

Counsel for CityCenter, which has argued the structure was a hazard and could collapse in an earthquake, said the testing areas are so small they won't damage the building's integrity. CityCenter and MGM officials have been seeking permission to demolish the building, which originally was planned to be 47 floors.

"Perini is clearly talking out of both sides of its proverbial mouth," said Alexander Robertson IV, a Los Angeles lawyer for CityCenter.

Robertson said Perini opposes the testing because its lawyers know it would prove CityCenter's case.

As workers knock out the concrete, experts will take photographs and video of the steel reinforcement, gathering potential evidence for trial.

The case is expected to continue into next year.

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