Problems of Roofian Proportion

The media reports put a happy face on stadium construction. The official records tell a far different story.

A breakneck building schedule has resulted in huge cost overruns, design and construction errors and infighting among key players in the Bank One Ballpark project. These problems, spelled out in Maricopa County stadium-construction records, raise questions about whether the taxpayer-financed stadium will perform as promised.

Officials are optimistic that everything will work as planned, but a New Times review of county records reveals that the 25-month construction process has been chaotic and, at times, fractious.

The cost of the retractable-roof, 48,500-seat baseball stadium has grown to more than $354 million and is expected to rise to about $380 million as repair costs and overtime mount during the final months of construction. The stadium is supposed to be ready for the Arizona Diamondbacks' first home game, a March 29 exhibition. The season opener, and first official game, is scheduled two days later.

Maricopa County taxpayers--through a quarter-cent sales tax that expired December 1--have shelled out $238 million of the construction expense, which originally was estimated at $279 million. Taxpayers have contributed an additional $2 million to $4 million in extra sales tax proceeds that were collected in late November and will be used for stadium repairs and maintenance.

The Diamondbacks are supposed to cover all costs exceeding $238 million; given the latest construction projections, the team's share, originally put at $41 million, could soar to $142 million. There are, however, contract provisions that could require the county to spend more if the county interferes with construction of the project.

The problems plaguing the massive project are outlined in a thousand pages of construction documents housed at the Maricopa County Stadium District office. The county owns the stadium, although it will be operated by the Diamondbacks.

District records reveal several deficiencies in the construction and design of the stadium ranging from misplaced concrete footings to one contractor tearing up another's work, to lamination peeling off cabinets in luxury suites.

The biggest and most persistent problem has been the design, construction and testing of the stadium's unique and massive roof, which would be the largest movable roof in the country.

Despite a December 5 celebratory headline, "It works!" in the Arizona Republic (a Diamondbacks owner), the roof faces several significant obstacles before passing its final test of opening or closing in fewer than five minutes. The western half of the roof passed one recent test when it was moved to the closed position for the first time.

Crews continue to work to position the roof panels on a series of rails that have proved difficult to align. The root of the problem appears to be that the stadium's steel frame was not erected within design tolerances, for a variety of reasons.

Tensions between the roof's primary designer, Martin/Martin Consulting Engineers, and the roof's primary contractors, Perini/Tutor-Saliba and Schuff Steel, escalated as problems with the roof compounded this summer and fall.

On September 30, Martin/Martin's principal engineer, Stanley Welton, informed stadium officials that the Wheat Ridge, Colorado, company would no longer resolve design and construction errors for the roof until its outstanding invoices were paid.

Welton's hardball position triggered a sharp response from Perini/Tutor-Saliba's project manager, Ken Schacherbauer.

"This is blackmail," Schacherbauer complained in an October 15 letter to Huber, Hunt & Nichols Inc., the company managing overall construction.

"In order for the project to be completed on time, we will all have to work together to find the most efficient method to construct the structure . . ." Schacherbauer continued.

The crisis was resolved--at least temporarily--after the stadium's chief architect, Ellerbe Becket, intervened. But the dispute reveals the stress the project team is under as opening day looms ever closer.

Unlike last year--when stadium and Diamondback officials welcomed press coverage during key construction milestones--officials are now resorting to silence, secrecy and delay.

New Times' repeated requests for interviews to provide perspective on the construction documents have gone unanswered. A source says Diamondbacks' chairman Jerry Colangelo instructed all parties involved in the project, including public officials, not to talk to New Times.

Stadium District manager Bob Williams, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman Don Stapley and key construction managers refused to respond to interview requests.

When a New Times reporter went to the Stadium District office to review records at an appointed time, he was met by Williams and a security guard. When New Times requested additional records, Williams said, "I'm done talking to you," and the security guard got to his feet and stood behind Williams. Additional records were not made available until the Maricopa County Attorney's Office intervened and forced compliance with the state Public Records Law. But the records were not made available until more than a week later.

Although tours of the stadium are routinely given, New Times was not granted access for photographs until late Monday.

While the official brass is reluctant to break Colangelo's edict of silence, the construction workers themselves, perhaps frustrated by the pace, are less circumspect.

"I hope the fucking thing falls down," said one steelworker as he left the site last week. "And I hope it is full when it happens."

About half of the cost overruns to date are because of upgrades added to the stadium during construction. They include unobstructed views of the field from every seat, scores of rest rooms, ubiquitous concession areas equipped with television monitors, several outfield picnic areas, and extensive and thoughtful planning for wheelchair access to all levels.

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