Loose Screws

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Furthermore, what records that have been reviewed have been described by the team as unreliable.

The team's admission that inspections were poorly recorded alarms Newton. "If you don't have anybody there recording inspections, then you have a big problem," he says. "If it was my building, I would be very concerned."

Such worries, however, are not shared by the stadium district or the team.

"Why lose sleep over it?" says former stadium district director Bob Williams, who oversaw construction of the ballpark and now is directing the county's jail construction program. Williams says the ballpark's engineering team reported that the Dywidags were installed properly, and that has satisfied the district that the building is safe.

Why, then, did Cook raise the concerns?

Diamondbacks president Rich Dozer says he has no idea why Cook wrote his letter, and Cook declines to comment.

Stadium district officials, however, offer one theory. In an overzealous effort to strengthen their negotiating position during the contentious cost-overrun settlement discussions, the Diamondbacks, several stadium district officials speculate, may have encouraged Cook to issue a warning letter, but got far more than they bargained for.

"They [Diamondbacks] were looking for a way to sue somebody," says Maricopa County Stadium District director Bill Scalzo.

So is Bank One Ballpark unsafe for the millions of fans who enter each year? The team and stadium district say no. Cook, the engineer who first issued the warning, is no longer commenting on his report.

Or did the Dywidag connections become part of the team's legal strategy that backfired in a most unexpected way?

These questions aside, two things are certain. To this day, no one independent of those involved in building the ballpark has reviewed Cook's concerns about the Dywidag installation. And, to this day, no one has turned a single Dywidag nut to make sure it was properly tightened.

The Bank One Ballpark was built at breakneck speed, with design work on critical areas frequently completed just weeks ahead of construction. Mistakes plagued the project, driving the cost up from an estimated $278 million to more than $370 million by the time it was completed in March 1998. The Diamondbacks were responsible for all costs above the first $238 million -- which was covered by Maricopa County taxpayers through a since-expired quarter-cent sales tax.

The $92 million cost overrun, combined with an $85 million payroll for the fledgling baseball team, has driven expenses far beyond what Diamondback managing partner Jerry Colangelo told investors to expect when he enticed more than a dozen mostly corporate backers to buy the expansion team for $130 million.

Colangelo has been forced to seek $53 million in additional funds from investors. Their reluctance to continue investing in the team became apparent last summer, when Colangelo was forced to borrow an estimated $10 million to $20 million. The loan reportedly was co-signed by Major League Baseball. The team's financial problems are tied to declining attendance, even after the team won 100 games and the National League Western Division title in 1999.

Ramon J. Cook's letter raising serious safety concerns about the ballpark came at a critical time for the team. If fans steered clear of the ballpark for any reason, the team would lose much-needed revenue. The team, according to published reports, lost about $12.5 million during the 2000 season.

At the same time, Cook's letter could provide leverage for the team to shift responsibility for some of the construction cost overruns to someone else. Reducing expenses has been a top priority for the team this year. The Diamondbacks have been aggressively cutting costs, laying off office personnel, and persuading the city to cover all police and traffic control expenses, a move that will save the team $800,000 a year.

The Dywidag bars and nuts Cook referred to are critical components in the stadium's design. The threaded bars, which look like thick, long bolts, are embedded anywhere from four to 15 feet deep into concrete columns. One end of each bar protrudes from the column and is used to anchor steel trusses to the column.

There can be as many as 16 Dywidag bars and nuts securing each end of a cantilever steel truss to a column. The trusses support pre-cast concrete grandstands.

As important as they are, the nuts on the Dywidag bars are supposed to be tightened to a specific tension, a task that is typically performed with a hydraulic jack calibrated to provide the proper torque.

But when the stadium was being built, stadium district records show, the Dywidag bars were not placed properly in the concrete columns. After it was too late to do anything about it, workers discovered there was not enough clearance around the nuts to use specially designed "hydraulic ram jacks" to tighten the nuts to the manufacturer's specification.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty