The builders of East Tennessee State University’s new parking garage say the complicated design has contributed to the delayed construction of the structure, but architects say the job should have been routine, and point to unseasonable weather as the cause of the setbacks.
Tony Pettit, vice president of Retenbach Constructors, the Knoxville firm hired to manage the construction of the $26 million garage, said Tuesday that issues related to the structure’s design have added to delays caused by this year’s unusually wet weather and the site’s unsuitable soil composition, and predicted that the garage may be ready for vehicles by mid-January.
“It’s a complicated design, not just bolts and nuts, there are different elevations and a very intricate facade on the office building,” Pettit said of the indoor office space on either end of the garage that will house the parking and public safety offices, a campus visitors center and a food service area. “It’s complicated because the rain causes us to get to a certain spot in construction later, then you run into things that don’t exactly work one way or the other. You get materials in ahead of time based on what you think is going to work, then it doesn’t work, then you have to wait even longer to get different supplies.”
Chuck Griffin, President of Knoxville’s Barber McMurry Architects, the firm hired to design the new garage, said the pre-cast concrete and brick building’s plans are no more complicated than the construction of most other structures, and said the delays at the site have not been caused by the blueprints.
“The delays have everything to do with weather, not design issues,” Griffin said. “He knew what the plans called for when he bid the project, and the other delays go back to the contractor ordering materials.”
He said a representative from the company periodically visits the job site in Johnson City to check on the progress of the construction, and said the contractors have not reported any issues with the building’s design to the inspector.
The 1,200-space garage, along State of Franklin Road to the southwest of the Minidome, was originally intended to open for parking before the start of ETSU’s fall semester.
Pettit said the construction schedule was delayed early in the project when graders discovered the soil under the site and the neighboring 200-space parking lot was unsuitable for building.
The contractor had to remove truckloads of dirt from the site and bring in usable soil, then the rains came, giving Northeast Tennessee one of its wettest years yet and further delaying construction.
Pettit said the goal now is to have the building completed in time for the start of the spring semester in January.
ETSU Vice President of Finance and Administration David Collins said that, while the garage may be opened by then for student parking, it’s unlikely that the school’s public safety department will be able to relocate while students are on campus.
“We’re concerned with not having emergency communications while a great majority of students are on campus,” Collins said. “We would have to get the new equipment in, shut down in one place and reopen in another, and it would be challenging to do all that before classes start in January.”
If the garage is finished by January, student parking and the welcome center could move in, Collins said, but the public safety department may have to wait until spring break, March 10-15, to find a window to move when students aren’t present.
To pay for the construction, ETSU increased student fees in 2011 from $25 to $50 per semester.
Originally budgeted to cost $23 million, school officials said the fee increase should still cover the costs when the price tag was increased to $26 million in July 2012 when construction began.
Pettit said he is expecting more than 20 change orders to increase the price even more, largely from the soil complications.