Fiddling With the Roof | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona


Fiddling With the Roof

The euphoria sweeping through 50,000 fans cheering as the Bank One Ballpark's roof retracted on opening day to unveil a crisp night sky splattered with fireworks came only after a $300,000 last-minute modification to the sensitive roof mechanism. No one with the massive construction project knows whether the latest fix...
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The euphoria sweeping through 50,000 fans cheering as the Bank One Ballpark's roof retracted on opening day to unveil a crisp night sky splattered with fireworks came only after a $300,000 last-minute modification to the sensitive roof mechanism.

No one with the massive construction project knows whether the latest fix will be the last in a series of expensive problems that have vexed the nation's largest moving roof for more than a year and already have cost well more than $2 million in change orders and repairs.

Overall, the outlays for roof repairs and adjustments are a relatively small part of the $356 million ballpark. But about $20 million in additional bills, some related to roof problems, remain outstanding.

The possibility for even more extensive modifications and repairs to the retractable roof clearly exists.

"There is a potential dispute between the contractor and the owner," says Maricopa County Stadium District director Bob Williams. The stadium district owns the ballpark, which is operated by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Stadium district records indicate significant structural deficiencies are present and that it will be several months before designers, contractors and engineers determine if the latest roof adjustments solved all the problems, or if more significant issues remain.

"Once we hit 115 degrees, we are going to know the answer," says a source close to the project.

Any costs to repair the roof during the first year of operation are the responsibility of the Arizona Diamondbacks. After the first year, any repairs costing more than $50,000 will come out of a long-term capital account, which currently has about $5 million, nearly all of which is taxpayer money.

The capital account received a windfall last winter when collections from the quarter-cent sales tax to finance stadium construction reached the mandated $238 million in mid-November. The sales tax, however, remained in place until December 1. Another $5 million was collected during the busy Christmas shopping season, raising taxpayers' contributions to the stadium to $243 million. The bonus $5 million was deposited in the ballpark's long-term capital account as required by agreements between the stadium district and the Diamondbacks.

If the roof continues to experience persistent problems into 1999, it could be taxpayer funds that are tapped first to cover further repairs, although it is more likely that the problems will be sorted out before then.

Contractors, engineers and designers could also face being held financially responsible for the roof's structural problems.

A survey of the roof conducted in mid-February revealed that the rails that span the north and south sides of the stadium on which the six roof panels roll are too close together, stadium district records show. In addition, the distance between the rails varies. The result is that the six movable roof panels mounted on six movable trusses do not sit squarely on the rails.

To fix the problem before opening day, workers adjusted several wheels, or bogies, attached to roof panels riding on the south rail. The process took several days, and, according to a source familiar with the work, was a success--but with a $300,000 bill. It was the second time in six months that adjustments were made to bogies on the south rail.

Questions remain as to how long the latest adjustment will hold. Not only are the rails not in the specified position, but there are problems with the trusses as well. The six movable trusses that hold up the roof and stretch between the north and south rails were supposed to be uniform but instead have up to a 2.75-inch variation in length, district records show. The 2.75-inch variation may not seem like much over a 517-foot span, but designers set a plus/minus one-fourth-inch tolerance for the trusses.

As summer heats up, the trusses will expand as much as two or three inches during daytime temperature extremes, before contracting as the temperature falls in the evening. It is uncertain how the temperature variations will impact the roof's operation and whether additional expensive adjustments to the bogies will be necessary or if other repairs will be needed.

What is known is that something fundamental is wrong.
"All parties are in agreement that no one yet knows, with any certainty, the reasons the rails are closer together than specified, or that the trusses are not the specified length, or that the trusses are skewed," Robert K. May, construction manager for Huber, Hunt & Nichols, Inc., stated in a March 3 letter to the stadium's primary contractor, Perini/Tutor-Saliba.

"These apparent deficiencies may turn out to be attributable to either construction or design issues. We do not believe there is enough currently available data, that when fully assembled and analyzed, the root cause of these apparent deficiencies could be determined. More than likely, additional information is required."

The continued adjustments to the bogies to keep the roof aligned have become a major point of contention between contractors and the construction manager.

Perini/Tutor-Saliba and its primary subcontractor, Schuff Steel, asked May to guarantee that they "will never again be responsible for any future modifications or corrections" to the roof once the south-rail bogies were realigned last month. Schuff estimates it already has more than $2.5 million in outstanding change orders primarily because of problems associated with the roof.

May rejected their verbal requests. "Due to the uncertainties associated with this matter, (I) cannot agree to waive potential responsibilities associated with known or unknown construction deficiencies," May stated in his March 3 letter.

The need to readjust the bogies couldn't have come at a worse time.
The stadium's grass field was installed in the first week of February, and the baseball team wanted to open the roof each day and close it in the evening to help the grass take hold.

The roof's designers, Hatch Associates Ltd., stated in mid-February that the roof should not be moved until the bogies on the south rail had been adjusted during the second week in March, district records show.

The team ignored Hatch's recommendation, taking "a calculated risk," according to a knowledgeable source, and proceeded to open and close the roof daily in order to stimulate grass growth.

There are no records indicating whether the roof mechanisms sustained any damage during this period, although the stadium district states that it is "not aware of any damage to the roof as a result of any movement of the roof prior" to the bogie adjustment.

Calls to May and officials with Perini/Tutor-Saliba and Schuff Steel seeking comment about the roof were not returned. The Arizona Diamondbacks' project manager, John Wasson, also did not return a call.

The movable-roof mechanism is just one of several significant problems plaguing the ballpark. A dispute also is brewing over the installation of the roof's waterproof membrane, which sustained damage from heavy February rains.

Architects from Ellerbe Becket, the ballpark's design firm, complained on February 5 that "a great deal of water was coming into the building" and expressed concern that roofing and insulation already installed had been damaged. The situation was so bad that Ellerbe Becket suggested that opening the roof in a rainstorm would cause less damage.

"From our observation it would appear that the building would weather a storm far better with the roof in the open position," Jim Handley, senior project architect, stated in a letter to May.

Handley continued to monitor the situation and, five days later, on February 10 notified May that roofers were failing to install the roof as specified in the contract. Handley stated that roofers were not leaving newly installed roofing material in a watertight condition at the end of each workday, making the membrane susceptible to damaging rains.

Handley's letter came after roofing crews lost more than four days between February 3 and 9 because of persistent rains.

The work delays infuriated May, who sent a scathing letter to Perini/Tutor-Saliba, which had subcontracted the roofing project to Franklin Roofing Inc. May noted in a February 14 missive that Perini/Tutor-Saliba "is significantly behind schedule with this work." May described the situation as "ludicrous."

By late February, the stadium district's lawyers were involved, insisting that Perini/Tutor-Saliba provide a full warranty that the roof as installed meets specifications. The lawyers also wanted the contractor to provide a written plan on how to deal with any damage sustained by the rains.

Perini/Tutor-Saliba did not respond, and May sent another letter on March 3 reminding the contractor that a warranty and an action plan were still required. No response from Perini/Tutor-Saliba could be located in stadium district records as of March 31.

The early February rains caused extensive damage to the stadium district offices located in the southwest corner of the ballpark. District director Williams complained in a February 5 memo of "massive leaking" in several areas that damaged carpets, walls and ceilings. Five weeks later, the stadium district offices were still in disrepair and lacked hot water in the rest rooms and break room. At least two offices still needed repairs as of opening day.

At the same time the roof was causing headaches, stadium officials were dealing with another potentially significant problem. A number of slide bearings on the low roof over the south side of the stadium unexpectedly sheared off. The bearings are designed to compensate for movements in the low roof that occur when the high roof's retractable panels are opened and closed.

There were concerns among some contractors that the bearings were breaking because unknown forces within the stadium were placing more than expected stress on the bearings and tearing them apart.

However, the manufacturer of the bearings, Voss Engineering Inc., concluded the bearings failed because paint and welding debris affected their performance. The 13 bearings were replaced and their stainless steel supports cleaned. So far, the new bearings appear to be working, but will be closely monitored.

The less-than-complete nature of the ballpark made it impossible for the stadium to receive a standard "certificate of occupancy" from the City of Phoenix prior to opening day.

Instead, the stadium is operating under "conditional certificates of occupancy" that are good for 30 days and renewable for up to six months. The city will issue conditional certificates if inspectors find "that no substantial hazard will result from occupancy of the building.

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