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City Project Manager Blames Contractors for Problems and Delays at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena

1:11 PM, Mar 8, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There are more safety questions at the city's major sports and entertainment arena.  This past weekend, thousands of people enjoyed the Harlem Globetrotters at the arena.  Eager fans also cheered on the championship winning Sharks first pre-season game Saturday night.  This week, the arena hosted a Michael Jackson tribute show.

That's why we are investigating construction problems at the Veterans Memorial Arena.  Your tax money built this $130 million facility in 2003.  

Now First Coast News is trying to find out if this building is safe.  We found an engineering report that the city paid for that warns of falling bricks and stones.

The report, from engineering firm THP, criticizes the company that built this arena for disregarding standard construction practices, and points to the city for lack of oversight.

The arena needs to be re-inspected to determine if it should even be open, THP company spokesman Mike Maul said in a phone interview.  He said that could take eight weeks to figure out.  And now we are wondering, why the city has not moved quicker to further investigate, since they got this report nearly four months ago.

David Schneider was the project manager when the city had this arena built, and he's the project manager for the current repairs that need to be done to correct safety problems.  Schneider tells us all of this is the contractor's fault, not the city's fault.

"If Turner does not move quicker than the pace they have been on, the city will have go the other route, have another company do the investigation, prepare the remediation plan, and either offer it to Turner to build, or offer it to another contractor and then recover from Turner in court that cost," Schneider said.

"So Dave, help me understand. This is Turner, the company you're telling me did not build this arena correctly. Now you're telling me during this inspection phase, they're not moving quick enough, correct?" reporter Jeff Marcu asked. 

Schneider: "That's correct." 
Marcu: "And you're still working with them? The city is still working with them when safety is involved?" 

Schneider: "Correct."  

Marcu: "Why?" 

Schneider: "Working with Turner is still the best avenue to get these problems resolved quickly."

If the city finds another company now, Schneider said they would have to go through the bidding process, and ultimately cost taxpayers more time, and possibly money. 

Turner conducted more inspections Monday, to try and figure out the extent of the problems.  We could get results in a matter of days, but the question still remains, is the arena safe?

Marcu: "How can taxpayers and people who walk up to this building feel safe when we have all these safety issues?  Then you tell me the company that is re-inspecting the arena and originally missed all this is just not moving as fast as we'd like them to?" 

Schneider: "It probably doesn't make them feel good."

So we asked more questions.

Marcu:  "Was the city negligent in making sure this taxpayer arena was built to code, and was built safely?" 

Schneider:  "No." 

Marcu:  "But the city's inspectors missed all these things."

Schneider:  "There was no intent, there was no intent.  You said negligent.  Negligent is when you try. Nobody tried to miss anything.  Is was all well-intended.  Nobody, negligent is not the right word." 

Marcu:  "What is the right word?"

Schneider:  "Just missed things.  Building this size, 440,000 square feet, things will be missed.  It's very disappointing.  We had again a contractor, an architect and a program manager.  The city was the only one who didn't have a direct employee on the job site.  It was also contracted out to professional contracting firms.  The city feels we didn't perhaps get the right services we got from these firms."

Marcu:  "Dave, who makes the call if this arena stays open?"

Schneider:  "The city would make that call." 

Marcu:  "Who?" 

Schneider:  "It would fall back to public works, I believe." 

Marcu:  "And who would that be?" 

Schneider:  "Well, right now, we don't have a director right now.  It could be me." 

Marcu:  "You don't know for sure if you're the man who would determine if this building is safe or not safe and we have to keep it open or close it?" 

Schneider:  "I got a company saying, THP it doesn't think it's safe. Turner thinks it is safe. I'm going to wait until they do their investigation leads to, um...We're going to keep the barricades up around this arena until this investigation's done and we're going to see where we're at."

Marcu:  "So, when I asked did the city have any employees, and you said no, are you a city employee?" 

Schneider:  "Yes."

Marcu:  "You were involved in this project." 

Schneider:  "Yes."

Marcu:  "So you were the city employee responsible for protecting the taxpayer?" 

Schneider:  "Your question was did you have city employees inspecting the work, and the answer to that is no." 

Marcu:  "Did you not inspect reports?" 

Schneider:  "We had lots of reports come in."

Marcu:  "So, you did inspections?" 

Schneider:  "I read reports." 

Schneider told us again about one of the reasons why he said the arena is safe.

"These stones, these panels have withstood nature for the past eight, and eight and a half years makes me feel confident these stones are not going to fall anytime soon for sure," Schneider explained.

"And you think that would be a fair argument? God forbid, if someone did get hit or killed by a capstone, you're argument would be it hadn't happened yet," Marcu asked.

"That wouldn't be a real good argument, no," Schneider replied.

We wanted to speak with the inspectors at THP about this report.  They declined an interview.  In the meantime, we contacted the arena's builder, Turner Construction, to see if they have read this explicit report.  Spokesman Chris McFadden e-mailed this statement:

"Turner has read THP's report which discussed design, maintenance and workmanship issues at the arena. We continue to conduct inspections to determine the scope and cause of the issues raised in the report. We are working diligently and cooperatively with our partners to resolve the issues that are identified."

Wednesday evening, McFadden also emailed us this statement: 

"Inspections at the Arena are continuing. We also are working with our partners to develop a work program by March 16, the deadline we have agreed to meet with the City of Jacksonville."

The THP report also warned of 13 items THP found that are either failing, inadequate or in need of more analysis. 

First Coast News

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