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Community center construction won't be finished on time

Gary B. Gray • Feb 9, 2012 at 9:48 AM

Don’t chalk up your cue sticks or lace up those new sneakers just yet.

Knoxville’s Rentenbach Constructors apparently is off pace to complete construction of the new Memorial Park Community Center in April.

In early January, during one of several tours taken of the 67,000-square-foot facility, the Johnson City Press was told the center was roughly 70 percent complete and still on track for an April opening. Back up a bit more to September. At that time, there had been no change in the projected late March completion date, which is stated in the contract.

Is this really that big a deal?

Maybe not. But it’s likely a few inquiring minds want to know.

“At the last meeting we had with Rentenbach in January, we told them to go back and give me a ‘real’ date,” said Tommy Burleson, the city’s construction agent. “They’ve been slippin’ and slidin’ on me.”

When asked to explain, Burleson said the company has been pushing the completion date back in very small increments.

“The contract has mid-March, but they are allowed a certain amount of ‘weather days’ and that moved it into April,” he said.

Burleson said he plans to meet with company representatives next week at which time he expects to get a specific commitment. He also said the company has not incurred any penalties, and it has a buffer built into the contract that should allow the company to complete the center in a reasonable amount of time.

The project includes two alternatives: the addition of a $90,500 terrazzo complete with sitting area and greenspace that will be built behind the senior component, and the $218,000 tennis courts are being constructed just west of the senior component.

Both Randy Christiansen, Burleson’s construction project manager, and Robert Halcomb, Rentenbach’s project superintendent, said about five months ago these projects likely will not be completed before the main structure is wrapped up, and a completion date for the tennis courts and terrazzo will be contingent on weather conditions.

Christiansen said Wednesday that Halcomb has been replaced as project superintendent, but his replacement is due to health concerns and the switch has nothing to do with job performance.

Ground was first broken in October 2010. Work began the following month when unexpectedly cold weather hit the area, and construction slowed at the time. Between then and now, wet weather has hampered completion of some portions of the center, so it’s not a complete surprise that it may take a little longer than first expected.

The complete project budget is about $15 million, which includes design, site preparation, furnishings and other equipment and materials. The City Commission already is well into discussion and near the design phase for other elements that will be built near the center, thanks in large part to money left over from the estimated cost.

These include an amphitheater, wrought iron fencing, a plaza honoring veterans with the famous Doughboy as its centerpiece, as well as concrete walkways and other amenities.

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