Fly Me to the Roof
Bank One Ballpark's builders pulled out the stops last week in an effort to get the $354 million project on schedule--they hired a helicopter to hoist roofing material onto the west end of the stadium's movable roof.

The helicopter flew on December 17, lifting material from a staging area south of the stadium. The Kaman Husky copter is normally restricted from flying over congested, populated areas, but operators obtained a Federal Aviation Administration waiver to fly beneath the flight path of Sky Harbor International Airport.

The decision to use the expensive helicopter--the tab is expected to be about $20,000--was sudden.

"Up until last week, there were no plans for a helicopter," says a source familiar with the project. But, the source says, the roofing material was supposed to have been installed months ago, so the airlift was ordered.

FAA principal operations inspector Charlie Prince says the agency received an application to operate under the airport's flight path on December 11 from Pro-Lift Helicopters of Litchfield Park. The waiver allowed for two days of flights, but the airlift stalled after one day because additional roofing material had not arrived at the site.

Diamondbank officials are said to be sweating because, quite literally, their "roof of opportunity" for installing a natural grass playing field is waning. A special hybrid zoysia sod is to be installed on January 8 and 9, and the grass-pushers want the stadium roof to be open during the day so the grass gets sunlight.

But the roof cannot be fully opened until the waterproof membrane is installed, and that is supposed to take several weeks on the west half of the roof. The three movable panels on the west side have been closed for several weeks. Once the membrane is installed, the western half of the roof will be retracted.

But the roofing will only be half-done. The three movable panels on the east side of the stadium must then be closed to allow the workers to install the waterproofing. The east-side panels were tested for the first time last week, when they were pulled fully closed with a small back-up motor.

Hoisting roofing materials is only one problem. Workers also are reported to be scrambling trying to fix the two main motors that open and close the roof. Electronics that control the speed of the motors apparently were damaged during shipment, and new parts have been ordered.

Meanwhile, sod specialists are monitoring plots at three locations--one in Scottsdale and two in California--and will determine next month which grass looks best for harvesting. The 1.5-inch-thick sod will be laid in four-foot-by-30-foot sections.

Even when the roof is open, the infield grass will be in the shade for several more months. Halogen lamps are being installed to provide nourishment to the shaded grass, says Steve Cockerham, a University of California-Riverside scientist who is in charge of developing and installing the sod.

Cockerham hopes sod can be installed on schedule and says he has not been told of any possible delays.

"We would like to get in there in January if we can," Cockerham says, adding that additional work on the field will be needed to get it ready for opening day, March 31.

Stadium construction records indicate there are concerns that the soil inside the stadium will be too cold during the winter to stimulate much growth. Cockerham says one remedy may be closing the roof at night to trap heat inside the stadium.

A tarp that allows sunlight to penetrate is also being developed. It could cover the field during the day to create a greenhouse effect.

Contractors still have time to resolve roof problems before the grass becomes a critical concern.

"We think our drop-dead date is probably around the first week in February," Cockerham says.

And what if the grass isn't installed by that date?
"That question really has not come up yet," says Cockerham.

Raising Fairbanks
Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks got a $6,000 raise at a recent city council meeting, but if you blinked, you missed it.

The item was passed under "emergency provisions"--Frank apparently is doing a little last-minute Christmas shopping--and sandwiched between a lucrative city bid for a seven-story parking garage and a hotly contested city telecommunications ordinance.

And between the two groups of fat cats mewing for a shot at the city coffers, nobody noticed Fairbanks' salary go up from $146,391 to $152,613.

Mayor Skippy Rimsza could barely be heard announcing Fairbanks' salary jump over the unhappy murmuring of the losing bidders for the parking garage. Moonbeam Frances Emma Barwood mumbled something about a question her constituents had about raising the city manager's salary. Skippy promised to include that in the record and moved briskly along. One older man tried to include a comment about Fairbanks' raise, but Skippy was having none of that.

"I'm sorry, I'm not going to accept that," Rimsza said. "We've already introduced and seconded the motion, and I'm not going to accept that."

And then, after a quick, unanimous vote, it was on to the telecom ordinance, which had CEOs and lawyers angered by the city's dastardly attempt to make them pay for the use of public rights of way.

In the hubbub, almost no one had noticed Fairbanks' raise pass quicker than chili after a three-day tequila binge.

And while there was no time to hear from the lone citizen who wanted to question Fairbanks' pay increase, there was plenty of time for lame jokes from councilman John Nelson, who joined the proceedings by phone.

"Skip," he asked, "since I'm here and not there, should I say 'there' instead of 'here'?"

Republic Actors
Stability at the top is not one of the Arizona Republic's long suits--in the 22 years since Eugene C. Pulliam's death, the Republic has had seven publishers.

Now, in what has to be another first in management eccentricities, the Republic has decided to replace an "acting" editor with another "acting" editor.

Paul Schatt, who has been serving as "acting" editorial-page editor since being deposed as the actual editor and told to shop around for something to do elsewhere in newspaper, will be deposed from his "acting" job on January 1 by another "acting" editor.

Mark Genrich, once of the now-defunct Phoenix Gazette's editorial page, will take over as "acting" editor from "acting" editor Schatt. Genrich's ideological streak runs to the more conservative than Schatt's. In columns, Genrich has shown sympathy for the convicted former governor J. Fife Symington III. Genrich--an anagram for Grinche--has also made it his personal mission to besmirch Arizona Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings.

As for a permanent editorial-page editor, Republic executives have interviewed and screened all the inside candidates--and now will widen the search nationally, which is being interpreted as a vote of no-confidence in any current staffers' ability to bring the comatose editorial page to life.

The new editorial-page editor probably won't be on board until February, presumably one with the mindset to editorially champion the presidential dreams and conservative agenda (laying up on par 5s) of former Veep Dan Quayle, who serves on the board of Central Newspapers Inc. along with his doting father, Jim Quayle, and protective uncle, Eugene S. Pulliam.

Other developments that cast doubt on how important the Republic brass consider the editorial page:

* Bean-counters with an eye on the budget but not on reader interests ordered the Sunday "Perspective" section temporarily chopped back to two pages to keep costs low, despite complaints from readers and consultants that the editorial page is adrift.

Which once again proves that budget woes invariably cause loss of perspective.

Are the Republic's finances hurting?
You decide: With the Republic as its main cash cow, parent company Central Newspapers' stock closed one day last week at $68 a share--while the larger New York Times Company closed at $66.

* The editorial-page staff is being kicked downstairs--moving from the 10th floor to the seventh floor of the downtown Republic's headquarters to make way for business functions of Central Newspapers being moved from longtime headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. So much for the editorialists having an "ivory tower" mentality.

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