Arena Diary Holds Early Questions on Beams

The unlicensed engineering inspector who signed off on the oversight of upper raker beams at the Alltel Arena repeatedly questioned the pouring of concrete and placement of reinforcing steel in the supports for the upper deck.

Danny Mathis, who kept a daily engineering journal and filed "Observation and Testing Reports" for Anderson Engineering Consultants Inc., was only a "senior engineering technician," which does not require a license in Arkansas.

Mathis, who declined to comment on the arena project, left Anderson Engineering earlier this year. Neither he nor company executives will discuss the timing or the reasons for his leaving.

But from July 1 to Dec. 31, 1998, the period when the upper raker beams were poured, Mathis noted a number of problems with the conditions under which concrete was being poured and with placement of reinforcing steel or "rebar" in the raker and ring beams supporting the arena's upper deck.

Mathis, who has 20 years of concrete experience, also repeatedly warned that concrete pours were creating voids and honeycombs within the support beams.

The records show that construction crews worked six days a week during the period, except between Aug. 21 and Sept. 10, when the arena's governing board fired Nabholz Building and Management Corp. (NBMC) of Greenbrier over questions about the concrete and hired Baker Concrete Construction Co. of Monroe, Ohio.

But Mathis' questions continued after the change. For example:

• Of the 110 daily reports he filed during the period, Mathis questioned the placement of rebar three times and reported finding voids or honeycombs in the beams in six instances.

• He reported "poor" conditions for pouring concrete on the three days in mid-September and reported conditions were "wet and unsafe" on Sept. 12. "Concrete was ordered and placed [on raker beam No. 1] during the rain," he reported.

• Concrete for raker beam No. 24 —the first one discovered to have defects and cracks leading to the cancellation of an NBA exhibition game Oct. 12 — was poured in the rain on Sept. 15. Mathis noted that conditions were rainy, muddy and wet that day and that there was "light rain during the concrete pour." Art Hunkele, senior project manager for VCC/Turner, says that pouring concrete in a light rain is actually beneficial.

• On Jan. 6-7, 1999, Mathis noted there was "on-going concrete patching and repair."

He first noted problems with the placement of rebar on July 29, when he advised NBMC and VCC/Turner of problems in the ring beam — the concrete beam that circles the $80 million arena along the front edge of the upper deck.

"Lower row of steel needs to be approximately two feet lower and the side steel needs to be on a one-foot center," Mathis reported.

In raker beam No. 24 — and 16 more of the 19 beams examined since Oct. 12 — engineers found the top strand of rebar had been placed between 5 inches to 12 inches too low inside the concrete.

Engineers explain that top and bottom pieces of rebar are critical, because they carry the forces of tension and compression on the outer surfaces of the beam.

Willard Reese of Garver Engineers says he was alerted by Anderson to problems with rebar and voids in the concrete throughout the period and designed repairs for the problems.

He says he considered the problems "significant" but is satisfied that they were fixed and aren't related to the recent cracking in raker beam No. 24.

Reese confirmed reports by Mathis that engineers used a 5,000-PSI (pounds per square inch) "pea" gravel mix to fill the voids, which formed around sections of rebar inside the concrete.

"We have some problems getting the concrete to flow in and around the rebar," he says. "They had some areas that were not well consolidated. But it was nothing to cause any structural concern."

Garver President Ron Pierce and others say they are not concerned that Anderson did not provide an engineer to write up the daily diary notes and sign off on the less frequent Observation and Testing Reports.

Scott Anderson, a principal with Anderson Engineering, says his father, Andy Anderson, was the supervisory engineer in charge at the arena and actually inspected the pouring of the raker beams. He allowed Mathis to keep the engineering diary and file the reports with VCC/Turner.

Scott Anderson says it's not unusual to have an engineering technician keep the engineer's diary or file reports with the construction manager.

Mathis' records during the period of July 1-Dec. 31, 1998, specifically mention only one personal inspection by Andy Anderson. That was on Aug. 17, when workers removed the backside form on the lower haunch of raker beam 25 and discovered the concrete had not spread throughout the lower portion of the form.

Bob Welch, the associate dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, agreed that it's not uncommon for a technician to keep the engineer's diary. But both Welch and Hirak Patangia, head of the engineering technology department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, say it's very unusual for an engineering technician to file the regular reports to a construction manager or general contractor.

Becoming an engineering technician requires only a two-year degree program, Patangia says.

One contractor who worked on the Alltel Arena construction site last year says that VCC/Turner "got crossways" with Andy Anderson soon after Anderson Engineering began inspections. VCC/Turner did not like the high fee that Andy Anderson charged, the contractor says. Andy Anderson has been an engineer for more than 40 years and founded Anderson Engineering in the mid 1970s.

Scott Anderson wouldn't comment about any disagreement over fees with VCC/Turner or whether Andy Anderson was compensated for his work. Scott Anderson also says that at the time of his firm's inspections "everything was in order."

Andy Anderson has been on site throughout the duration of construction, including the repair work, Scott Anderson says.

"Our contract requires us to check for specified things and we did so," Scott Anderson says. "Everything we could find was corrected. The inspections show everything was in good order when our inspections were made, and we stand behind that 100 percent. There are things that could have occurred during the placement of the concrete that could potentially cause this. Nobody knows exactly what's occurred."

One contractor described Andy Anderson as a "nice gentlemen in his 70s."

"He was out there in the summertime when it started and in the winter when it was freezing, doing the inspections," the contractor says. "Of course, when he turned in his bills, they didn't like them."

Another contractor who was present on many of the concrete pours for the raker beams says that Andy Anderson was "on site quite a bit."

But, he says, "I think Danny [Mathis] was primarily responsible [for inspections] down there."

"[Mathis] was doing both the concrete testing and also steel inspection," says the second contractor, who asked not to be identified. "I don't think that's uncommon. As far as pulling the test on the concrete, you don't have to have an engineering degree. It's all performed according to [American Society for Materials Testing] standards. There is a field testing certification that you have to go through.

"As far as inspecting rebar, he doesn't have anything to do with the structural [characteristics of the rebar] or anything like that. It's a matter of just reading plans and comparing what's in place."

Baker Concrete Construction has handled the repair of at least 17 faulty raker beams at Alltel Arena. The permanent fix for the beams is bolting and gluing steel reinforcement bars along the top of each side of the raker beams and connecting 10 steel stirrups on each beam. The process requires drilling 60 bolts into every raker beam.

Reese and other engineers say the process will actually make the beams stronger than they originally were designed.

"In spite of the problems we've had, we haven't seen any evidence of a problem with the quality of the concrete," he says.