Students returning to East Tennessee State University for the start of the spring semester this week will not be able to park in the school’s new $26.1 million parking garage as planned.
After a slew of delays, the 1,200-space structure, originally intended to be open for students in August, will now likely not be ready until mid-February, ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins announced Tuesday.
“The cold weather is killing us right now,” Collins said. “When it gets too cold, we can’t pull the fiber-optic lines or pour the concrete, and we expect it to be below freezing for the next week or two at the site.”
The 425,000-square-foot, multilevel garage, which will house food service operations and university offices along with student parking, has been plagued with delays since construction began in August 2012.
Workers at the site flanking State of Franklin Road near the minidome, first uncovered a larger amount of dirt that was unsatisfactory for building, and required additional time to excavate and backfill with proper material.
Then, an unseasonably wet year all but halted construction for weeks and exacerbated delays caused by materials shortages and design interpretation.
As late as last week, Don Freeman, president and CEO of Knoxville contracting firm Rentenbach, said the company intended to have the garage finished by Jan. 15 or 16, with the caveat that cold weather could affect construction.
Now nearing the sixth month since the garage was scheduled for its debut, Collins said each additional day late contractually costs the construction company $2,500.
“We in our mind are in liquidated damages,” he said. “What that means is, if a company doesn’t meet a contracted date, they have to pay so much per day when they’re late.”
In the contract with Rentenbach, Collins there were some allowed days for weather delays, but those have long been spent.
While the contract specifies a $2,500 penalty each day, the Tennessee Board of Regents will likely reach a settlement with the contractor for a sum less than that.
Even if the structure had opened this week, Collins said previously that moving the college’s public safety office would have had to wait until at least spring break to provide a week-long window when a majority of students weren’t on campus and the emergency communications systems could be taken offline for the move.
Now, he said making the newest target date is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“We wanted to put a date on it today, but when we looked at the weather forecast, there was no way to say a definite date,” Collins said. “When we talked with the contractor, we decided that mid-February was safe, but whether we can make that or not is wholly dependent on the weather.”
To pay for the construction, ETSU increased student fees in 2011 from $25 to $50 per semester. The project was initially expected to cost $23 million, but Collins said the schools should still be able to cover the increased price tag.
Earlier version of this story
East Tennessee State University's $26.1 million parking garage, originally slated to open in August, has been delayed once again, now scheduled for mid-February by college officials.
The 425,000-square-foot structure, which will house food service operations and university offices along with the 1,200 parking spaces, has been plagued with delays since construction began in August 2012.
Builders first uncovered soil unsuitable for building, then faced an unseasonably wet year, then ran into materials and design delays.
As late as last week, contractor Rentenbach hoped to have the structure ready for student parking by the Jan. 16 start of the spring semester, but the cold snap last week left workers unable to pour concrete or run cables for emergency phones and security cameras.
In announcing the later target date, ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins said that adequate parking should still be available this semester for students.