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City Project Manager Admits Someone Missed Inspection Items from 2003 at Veterans Memorial Arena

12:36 AM, Feb 23, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's the home of the national champ Sharks and the place families go to see the circus. A place that cost taxpayers $130 million to build.  So when we saw missing bricks at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, we started asking questions.

Now an admission that, yes, someone made a mistake years ago.

It's an interview we've been requesting for nearly a week.  Wednesday, we got it and some surprising answers about your arena. 

City of Jacksonville Senior Project Manager David Schneider oversees some of the city's biggest projects like the Veterans Memorial Arena and the new courthouse.  His background is in engineering.  "Civil engineer, professional engineer," he said.

We needed to interview Schneider because we were learning of construction defects on the arena that was built in 2003.  We found extensive brickwork repair, and learned from other contractors the city had halted a routine waterproofing project when workers found larger problems.

Since the city would not grant us an interview, we contacted council member Bill Bishop last week.  He's an architect, and found what appeared to be issues. 

"That's the weak spot, where moisture's coming through the wall," Bishop said.

Now, we finally got answers from the city.  "Primarily we found out some of the tie-backs for the bricks, the exterior bricks, some of them are not connected sufficiently. That behind the brick wall you see here, some of those individual bricks are not connected to the frame of the building," Schneider said.

At first, Schneider said this construction oversight is not a big issue. 

"No," he said when we asked him about it.  Then he clarified, "Project scope, it could be a lot of work. The main problem that could be caused by the tie backs would be bricks falling. That would be the ultimate worst case you could have by the bricks not being tied back would be bricks falling."

"We don't believe that issue exists. We don't believe the building's unsafe. We believe the bricks are all connected together. That none have fallen in nine years and none are going to fall anytime soon," he said.

So then we asked "Just because none have fallen in nine years, your thought is none could fall now?" 

"Uh, I'm connecting those two, yes," Schneider responded.

We asked for clarification. "So, are you giving us a hundred percent guarantee no bricks could fall right now?

"No, no, no, no, no," Schneider replied. 

"So, it could happen?" we countered. 

"I feel very comfortable standing here," Schneider replied.

Essentially what this means is this building that opened in 2003 is not really finished. 

"It means that the building really hasn't been completed yet per the architects plans and specs per 2003," Schneider said.

We asked how inspectors could have missed this issue during inspections before the building opened in 2003. 

"We had several layers of inspections done when the building was built by both the architect and the construction manager and our program manager.  So we had three layers of inspections,"  Schneider replied.

"So how does something like that get passed over?" we asked.

"That's a good question that we're following up on with those various entities: the architect, the program manager, the construction manager.  Because someone along the way should have caught that," Schneider said. "It should be discovered by someone walking the building, doing their job during construction, doing the documentation. It should have been picked up."

Schneider doesn't fully understand the scope of it yet, because he said there needs to be more inspection and exploration.  We asked him how many tie backs were missing from the bricks.

"All we know so far...we've looked in a few places...10, 20. It's in that range," he said.

And he doesn't yet know how much this oversight could cost to fix.  "I have no real scientific basis for this. I'm going to give you a big range, maybe $100,000 on the low end maybe a million on the high end. Somewhere in that range."

Schneider said the original contractor, Turner Construction is going to pay the cost of the repairs.  "It is not going to cost the taxpayers any money to fix," he said.

This is not the first water problem this arena has had.  Since the city had this arena built under the Better Jacksonville Plan in 2003, there have been a number of issues with leaking water and moisture problems.  "We've always had a lingering water issue we've kind of known about," Schneider said.

Schneider said SMG, the entertainment company that occupies the arena, is responsible for the daily maintenance.  "SMG , they were paid to deal with that."  He said they are also responsible for providing an annual report on the condition of the arena. 

"That would come to the city, public works. I saw the report.  Well, when I say I saw the report, I saw one about a year ago that addressed this specific project right here. Years prior to that, I said reports were coming to the city, I wasn't seeing them.  I'm assuming they were coming to the city. They weren't coming to me."

We asked Schneider to follow up and try to find out which person in the city, if anyone, is responsible for receiving and reviewing the maintenance reports on the city, and why they didn't see any signs of a larger problem.

In the meantime, we asked this city engineer to inspect the same areas where councilman and architect Bishop found problems on Tuesday. 

"There are areas where water has leaked in, whether that's, without looking further at each one, I can't tell you specifically," Schneider said.

We also tried to figure out why it took nearly a week to get this information for the taxpayers who paid for this arena. 

"I was notified Thursday like you said," Schneider explained. He said he told the city's PR people he was available last Friday for an interview.  Information they never gave us.               

Two of the city's PR people were at today's interview.  Spokeswoman Ginny Walthour interrupted our interview with Schneider.

"And, Jeff, I can clarify this for you," Walthour said.  Marcu replied, "Can I finish the interview?"  "Yeah," she said. 

Walthour initially agreed to explain on camera why the long wait, but when it was her turn for the interview, she didn't want to talk.  She said they had to go and started walking away.
Our cameras followed her.  "Ginny, I'd like to interview you just about the confusion we talked about with your office."

"Well I think we just need to circle back because with kind of the transition going I want to clarify what she received since this is her department," Walthour replied.

"Again, I'm just wondering is that a good response time?" we asked. 

"It's not, no. It is not a good response time, and normally we are very on top of media requests. We certainly want to provide the information to the taxpayers," she said.

First Coast news requested more interviews with the city and SMG to find out why no one questioned the water problems throughout the years. We'll let you know when they get back to us with those answers.


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