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Alltel's Odyssey of Steel and Concrete.

WELL BEFORE ERECTION of the cracked raker beam that waylaid the opening of the $80 million Alltel Arena Oct. 12, problems had arisen with misplaced reinforcing steel and flaws in pouring concrete.

One major structural defect forced engineers to heat and bend steel dowel rods as much as a foot before the rakers could be connected to a central ring beam around the arena. The dowels were out of alignment in 80 percent of the structure, say two workers familiar with the job.

"They had to do a lot of heating on the [dowels]," one worker at the job site says. "They had heat pencils that had to be stuck on there, and when they were heated to a certain. level, they had to stop."

Twelve dowels were designed to connect from the ring beam, into the form for each raker beam. The repairs were made in 1998, well before cracks were discovered in infamous raker beam No. 24, which forced cancellation of an NBA exhibition game on Oct. 12.

"That's the first I've ever heard of that at all," says Bob Russell, chairman of the Pulaski County Multi-Purpose Civic Center Facilities Board that oversees the arena. "As I recall, you cannot heat steel and bend it at all."

Charles Foster of Taggart Foster Currence Gray Architects Inc. in North Little Rock, the structural architect on the arena, also says he was never told about the decision to heat and bend the steel dowels.

Engineers at Garver Engineers in Little Rock would not comment on the project and referred questions to David Powell of the Little Rock law firm of Wright Lindsey & Jennings, who was chosen by Design Professionals Insurance Co. to represent the construction management team, the architects and the engineers at the arena.

Powell says the need to heat and bend the misplaced dowels is not significant.

"As in most construction projects, there were field adjustments that had to be made," Powell says. "They were made consistent with what's permitted construction practice. The American Concrete Institute code permits you to heat rebar, to move it or alter its location so things work properly. It's my understanding those procedures were followed in this situation."

Others, however, question whether the use of intense heat may have weakened the steel and made it brittle.

Those involved with the project say a variety of structural defects, questions over the design of the rebar, delays in reducing the size of rocks in the concrete to make it flow through the steel web in the raker beams, disputes over the payment for an engineering firm and allegations for overbilling plagued the project from the beginning.

Contractors, engineers, architects and their lawyers and insurance companies will meet in Little Rock this week to begin sorting out who will pay costs associated with construction problems at the arena.

Jeff Arnold, vice president of risk management for Baker Concrete Construction Inc., declined comment on specific problems with the project, citing this week's construction summit.

"There are inspectors, construction companies, architects, engineers and several insurance companies," Arnold says of the summit. "The preliminary discussions are just to see whether we're going to play in the same sand-box together, or are we going to play in the litigation sandbox?"

Others involved in the project say their insurance carriers have clamped a lid on comments, especially comments about the raker beams, pending a decision concerning whether the arena's problems will spill in to court.

Baker, of Monroe, Ohio, is the nation's largest specialty concrete contractor -- posting $247 million in 1998 revenue, $90 million more than its nearest competitor. Baker's resume includes Denver's Mile High Stadium, Cincinnati Bengals Stadium, the new Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and renovation of the Houston Astrodome.

Arnold and Baker came late to the troubled Alltel project, after the arena board fired Nabholz Building and Management Corp. (NBMC) of Greenbrier in August 1998.

The public view thus far has centered on early reports that a row of key support pillars were poured as much as six inches out of alignment in the early summer of 1998 -- a mistake that one key member of the construction team says may have triggered 90 percent of the defects subsequently found in the project.

Neither Foster nor Powell agreed with that estimation, however. Foster says the error by NBMC was isolated and didn't affect other trouble at the arena.

Who Is Responsible?

Records detailing who designed the arena, who built it, who checked behind them, and who fixed the mistakes raise issues of responsibility that go well beyond the beams.

Contracts and construction documents appear to support contentions by some involved that the arena was built too fast. They show that Vratsinas: Construction Co./Turner Construction Co., the joint venture of Little Rock and New York firms serving as construction manager for the project, was racing a contractual deadline requiring "substantial completion" by June 30, 1999 -- a deadline that wasn't met: Even before construction began, that date was changed to Aug. 11, 1999.

The documents also raise a question as to whether VCC/Turner met a provision in its March 31, 1997, contract with the arena board requiring written notice to the board and the architect if the manager bocomes aware of any fault or defect on the project.

"That provision, in my mind, would address a much more serious problem [than the misplaced dowels], one that is an actual defect as opposed to something that may be slightly misaligned but fixable in the field," Powell says. "You certainly aren't expected to report to the owner or the architect everything that doesn't fit exactly right in the filed."

Gus Vratsinas, CEO of Vratsinas Construction, says that Anderson Engineering Consultants Inc. was hired by the board to do the quality control and inspection.

"And we depended on their reports," Vratsinas says. "They noted deficiencies in the field. When we got reports back, they said deficiencies were corrected."

Arena board records also do not reflect any notification following numerous instances in which an inspector for Anderson Engineering noted misplacement of rebar, problems with the dowels, and voids and honeycombs in the concrete beams beginning in July 1998.

The notations, contained in a construction diary obtained by Arkansas Business, first highlighted problems in raker beams 23 and 24 in July and September 1998.

Cracks in raker beam 23 prompted its reinforcement with heavy steel plates last April and May. Cracks in the adjoining raker beam 24 and uncertainty about a temporary fix forced engineers to cancel the arena's opening event a few hours before the tipoff.

Other provisions of VCC/Turner's unusual contract may let the construction manager off the hook for the arena's flaws -- prompting competitors to suggest that the arena board would have fared better by following the traditional method of hiring a general contractor.

Those involved in behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering say it is too early to tell who will pay or how far back along the arena's three-year time line the bill may be tallied.

"We're waiting for somebody else to file suit, because we don't want to be first," says an officer of one company that could lose millions on the project. "Once the first suit is filed, it's going to go nuclear."

Assessing the Costs

During the month since arena officials revealed the woes of raker beam 24 and sent two high-priced NBA basketball teams packing to Little Rock National Airport, key members of the team at Alltel Arena deferred questions of blame and of cost until after the fix.

Now, attorneys for their insurance companies have ordered them to silence. Those who will talk, and others in the industry, cite two dynamics surfacing in the legal stew simmering in North Little Rock.

First, the design team worked as a unit and is protected as a unit under a $10 million errors and omissions policy written by Design Professionals Insurance Co., which is represented by Wright Lindsey and Jennings' Powell.

Second, VCC/Turner's actions are governed by a contract modeled after -- but strikingly different than -- the document used to hire the construction manager for the $23.2 million Statehouse Convention Center expansion a year earlier.

Little Rock attorney Hal Kemp drafted the Statehouse Convention Center contract after months of negotiation between the city and builders. He says the arena board made copies of his contracts and used them as models for its deals with the architects, engineers and VCC/Turner.

In fact, the VCC/Turner contract, prepared by the law firm of Williams & Anderson, contains an almost identical guarantee that neither the public board nor the construction manager is responsible for the actions of individual contractors, such as Baker Concrete or NBMC.

But an additional section used by Kemp for the convention center -- and dropped from the arena version -- makes the construction manager responsible for damages from any "acts, omissions, or failures of any contractor or subcontractor" which the manager knew or should have known about and failed to inform the city of by written notice.

The arena contract required VCC/Turner to provide written notice of faults or defects but provided no penalty for failure. The contract does require that VCC/Turner observe a "standard of care" -- defined as providing the legal responsibility, duty and professional ethics of expected construction managers.

The linchpin of the unusual deal with VCC/Turner came in clauses tied to a contract subheading "Time of Essence." They gave the construction manager an absolute deadline by which to bring the job in and made VCC/Turner responsible for "consequential" damages of up to $1,815,000 -- 150 percent of its fee. Contracts with architects and engineers working on the Alltel Arena imposed the same 150-percent penalty.

Attorneys in the case say the penalty could include such items as paying the Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Wizards for the NBA exhibition game they never played, as well as other expenses caused by delays.

Those involved in the project don't agree on whether time constraints aggravated arguments over the design of the rebar or the estimated 250 fixes on the project. But they agree the contract deadline will come back to haunt the arena team.

One attorney says the arena project was different than the Statehouse Convention Center and other public projects.

"They didn't have a hockey team or a basketball team scheduled to play," he says.
 Comparing Contracts
Since 1996, Little Rock, Pulaski County and Hot Springs have launched major
construction projects to build or enhance their sports and entertainment
centers. All three rejected the traditional method of hiring a general
contractor in favor of using a construction manager. Here are key
elements of the contracts:
 New Hot Springs
 Convention Center
Contract date May 6, 1996
Firm Flour Daniel Inc.,
 project manager
Contract Total $1,976,800 plus up to
 $150,000 expenses
Project Cost $26,000,000
Share of Cost 8.18%
Deadline for Substantial None. Manager
Completion pays cost of any delay
Faults and defects Shall guard the City
 against defects and
 correct manager def-
 iciences at no cost
 Statehouse Convention
 Center Expansion
Contract date July 24, 1996
Firm East-Harding/Hansel Phelps,
 construction manager
Contract Total $1,237,500 plus up to $100,000
 in expenses
Project Cost $23,200,000
Share of Cost 5.77%
Deadline for Substantial None. Trades contractors
Completion required to pay for missed
 deadlines on manager's
 schedule.
Faults and defects Immune. But manager
 pays costs of defects
 it fails to note.
 Alltel Arena
Contract date March 5, 1997
Firm VCC/Turner,
 construction manager
Contract Total $1,210,000 plus up to
 $2,510,000 in expenses
Project Cost $80,000,000
Share of Cost 4.65%
Deadline for Substantial June 30, 1999, with
Completion liability upto $1.8
 million for delays
 caused by manager.
Faults and defects Immune. Requires
 "standard of care"
 and notice of defects
 with no penalty for failure.
Source: Construction contracts


THE STORY OF STEEL AT ALLTEL ARENA

A year before engineers discovered flaws in the reinforcing steel or "rebar" inside 19 raker beams, inspectors noted that heavy dowels used to connect the rakers to the "ring" beam circling the arena didn't fit in eight out of 10 cases.

Heating the dowels to a red glow, workers bent them down as much as a foot and wired them to the bottom of the "rebar" inside the raker beams.

Troubles Appeared Early at Alltel Arena

THE FUTURE LOOKED BRIGHT along the north shore of the Arkansas River in late 1996, when the Pulaski County Multi-purpose Civic Center Facilities Board assembled its design/construction team. The official title of the board contained two more words than the panel had members.

The fledgling board, chaired by Central Arkansas auto dealer Bob Russell, chose a team that included an array of architects, engineers and contractors with state and national reputations for doing good work.

From Atlanta, the board hired stadium design firm Rosser International to work with North Little Rock's Taggart Foster Currence Gray Architects Inc. and The Wilcox Group of Little Rock. Chosen as design engineers was Garver Engineers Inc., a Little Rock-based firm with a national resume and private and government projects.

Vratsinas Construction Co. of North Little Rock and Turner Construction Co. of New York formed VCC/Turner, a joint venture, to oversee the arena's construction, and chose Anderson Engineering Consultants Inc. of Little Rock to handle geotechnical Services.

Team Without a Coach

A move that would prove pivotal, say other builders, was the board's decision to make VCC/Turner a construction manager rather than a traditional general contractor.

General contractors hire the trades firms to handle concrete, steel placement and all other facets of construction and assume ultimate liability for the quality of the job.

Construction managers coordinate and issue bids to choose the firms to handle each component of construction. In that setting, the arena board became the general contractor with no one private company to assume responsibility for faults or defects.

"Imagine a football team where each of 11 players answers directly to the team owner," says one key official involved in the project. "The coach is there, but he's an advisor. In effect, there is no coach."

The arena board's new "coach" coordinated bidding and helped choose Nabholz Building and Management Co. of Greenbrier to pour concrete. Anderson Engineering and Grubbs, Garner & Hoskyn, also of Little Rock, bid for the additional job of testing and inspecting construction work on the project.

Anderson bid $118,025 and won out over Grubbs' bid of $133,960, and began inspecting the erection of the concrete walls.

By May 1998, company Chief Executive Officer Edward K. "Andy" Anderson was locked in a bitter conflict with VCC/Turner over fees the company charged the arena board for preparing reports, as well as for the $75 an hour Anderson billed for his own time on the job.

With Anderson's agreement, VCC/Turner closed out the geotechnical phase of the job, which involved overseeing the earthwork and construction of the pilings driven deep below the arena grounds to the bedrock along the Arkansas River.

On May 19, 1998 the engineering firm's president, Scott W. Anderson, closed out the arena account for foundation work and agreed to VCC/Turner's demands that he cut $18,520.88 from the bill. Of that, $8,222.50 came from the difference between the $75 an hour Andy Anderson charged the arena for 299 hours during January and February of 1998 as senior engineer on the project and the $47.50 an hour VCC/Turner said he was owed. Much of the dispute involved overtime charges.

Two members of the construction team say Anderson stopped regular visits to the job during four months during the summer and autumn of 1998--the period critical to the pouring of raker beams and the giant sections of ring beam that encircle the upper deck.

Andy Anderson has declined several requests for interviews. Scott Anderson says the senior engineer never stopped his visits.

"There was a never a period when he wasn't out there," Scott Anderson says. "At the very least, he showed up for the contractors' weekly meetings on Thursdays."

In March 1998, Anderson Engineering hired a senior engineering technician, Danny Mathis, to handle inspections on the massive project. Mathis had 20 years experience in concrete as a veteran inspector with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Entries from Mathis' construction diary made between July and December 1998 note a parade of problems never revealed to the public and never reported to either the arena board or the architect, as VCC/Turner's contract apparently required.

The first problems became widely known in July 1998, when VCC/Turner Senior Project Manager Art Hunkele confirmed that NBMC had misinterpreted the geometry of the oval arena and poured a row of concrete pillars and connecting incline beams as much as six inches out of alignment.

Managers acknowledged the problem meant that 40 percent of the steel beams to be installed by AFCO Steel Inc. were too long or too short to connect to the concrete. Conceding that the problem had delayed steel construction for three months, Hunkele nevertheless predicted the problems could be corrected without delaying the Aug. 11, 1999, completion date for the project.

Barrier to Concrete

But other problems at the arena were deepening. Construction workers complained frequently during August and September 1998 that the design for the rebar inside the giant raker beams was far too dense to allow rocks in the concrete to pass through the cage of steel inside the forms created for each beam.

Both NBMC, and its replacement, Banker Concrete, were forced to huge vibrators to force concrete through the steel and into large voids at the base of the raker beams. One team member says there were so many steel bars they acted as a sieve, and the vibrators could not be slipped between the bars to drive the concrete through the steel as with normal projects.

"They had an extraordinarily difficult time with that," One engineer says. "There was a lot of steel in that project."

Garver team members stood by their design, but agreed to change the concrete density to pea gravel.

By then, Mathis had noted efforts to overcome another serious flaw in the project that was never reported to Russell or architect Charles Foster. Both said they were unaware of a problem that plagued 80 percent of the connection between each raker beam and ring beam -- a primary rib in the arena's skeleton.

In mid-September 1998, Mathis began nothing efforts by engineers to heat and bend the dowels, which were large rods of "rebar" or reinforcing steel.

The dowels had steel wiring that attached to the bottom stirrup of rebar inside the forms for the raker beams.

One individual familiar with the project speculated that the wiring tied onto the rebar cages could in fact have pulled the steel stirrups out of position. Last month, engineers added steel braces to 19 of the raker beams where cracking in the concrete appeared. The misaligned stirrups were blamed for the problem.

"It may have actually pulled [the stirrups]," he says. "when you load it with the concrete it may have done something like that. Something was going on. Whatever was going on was going on in [almost] all of [the raker beams]."

Garver Engineers came up with the fix, amid concerns by some on the job heating the large dowels would weaken the metal.

One worker on the Alltel Arena project was asked if he believes the arena is safe.

"Yes," he says. "[The bent dowels were] the only thing that out of the entire job would concern me."
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Comment:Alltel's Odyssey of Steel and Concrete.
Author:WHITELEY, MICHAEL; SMITH, DAVID
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 15, 1999
Words:3270
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