A manufacturing defect caused the sudden fracture of a glass panel that shattered and crashed down in the lobby of the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in downtown Medford last month, an engineering report concluded.

A manufacturing defect led to the sudden fracture of a glass panel that crashed down last month in the lobby of the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in downtown Medford, an engineering report concluded.

A report from Seattle engineering and architectural firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. said the glass failure was caused by the presence of nickel sulfide in the panel, which was manufactured by Atlanta-based Oldcastle Inc.

“RCC and (Southern Oregon University) are reviewing options for collecting damages from the responsible parties,” RCC Vice President of College Services Curtis Sommerfeld said in a news release.

The firm's report, released at the end of March, says nickel sulfide is a raw material that can be unintentionally introduced into molten glass during production. Cumulative heat exposure later can cause the particles to expand and crack the glass. Microscopic examination of the glass particles revealed the material, RCC officials said.

The tempered-glass panel, one of 41 that line a three-story atrium and stairway inside the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, fractured March 10. The 3-by-6-foot panel rained down fragments on people and furniture in the first-floor lobby 40 feet below. A female student was treated for minor cuts at an area hospital and released. A male student was bumped on the head by one of the falling fragments but declined medical treatment.

RCC officials cordoned off the area following the incident. Engineers collected samples of the broken glass and examined remnants of the panel, checking for loose fittings and possible structural support issues. None were found.

The lobby beneath the panels will remain closed until further notice. The area has been closed off with scaffolding and draped with dark material.

RCC and SOU officials are discussing a long-term solution, which could include a complete replacement of all panels, RCC officials said.

“The possibility of another glass failure is something we want to avoid, so we're probably looking at replacing those with some other kind of system,” said RCC Marketing Director Margaret Bradford. “What that material would be, I don't know yet.”

The replacement cost is not known. RCC and SOU are working with their respective insurance companies to determine the next steps, Bradford said.

“Every effort is being made to apply the lessons learned from this incident to better ensure the ongoing safety of the college community,” Sommerfeld said in a prepared statement.

— Ryan Pfeil