Guests at a Bloomington hotel got a frightening early wake-up Monday when four concrete-like panels fell from near the top of the 18-story building’s exterior and crashed through the lobby ceiling.
No one was hurt when the facade panels from floors 14 through 17 tumbled down about 1:50 a.m. from the front of the La Quinta Inn & Suites at 5151 American Blvd. W., just south of Interstate 494 and east of Hwy. 100, according to Bloomington Fire Chief Ule Seal.
Authorities had no immediate information on what caused the panels to come unhinged from steel studs on the southern face of the building.
The tumbling panels broke water pipes, including part of the sprinkler system, giving the lobby a good soaking and alerting fire personnel to the trouble, Seal said.
Heating and ventilation materials were also damaged.
The entire building, listed online by the hotel as having 233 rooms, was evacuated out of concern that more panels could fall, Seal said. Guests had to find other accommodations.
Guests were escorted back in with firefighters and allowed to retrieve their belongings before moving on to other hotels, said city of Bloomington building official Duke Johnson, who was on the scene overnight.
La Quinta spokeswoman Teresa Ferguson did not respond to messages seeking information about the hotel’s response to the mishap.
Seal described the panels as “concrete board, not quite stucco, but heavier than stucco, [which] created a bit of a whack” when they landed. He said some people in the building reported what they thought was a “pretty terrific boom.”
Johnson emphasized that the incident “wasn’t a structural failure. It was kind of a skin” that peeled from the roughly 40-year-old building.
He said the city does not make scheduled inspections of building facades. He described the hotel’s overall safety history as “fine. It’s been there for quite a while.”
A bang, then alarms
Guest Jay Schlenker said he and his wife were asleep in their 14th-floor room when “our daughters heard a loud bang; then the smoke alarms went off.”
Schlenker, of Bismarck, N.D., said everyone in the room “got up and gathered what stuff we absolutely needed” before hustling out of the hotel.
The Schlenkers were relocated to the nearby Hilton Garden Inn and intended to keep their appointed rounds this week of visits to Valleyfair and the Water Park of America for just “a little vacation after school is out” for their three daughters, he said.