Alltel Arena Still Behind

Despite thousands of hours of overtime and $3.5 million in expenses subsidized by a bonding company, the $73 million Alltel Arena project is still three months or more behind schedule, two insiders say.

And Mid-Continent Group, the Tulsa-based bonding company, indicated last week it will not pay any bills related to a night shift.

The construction management joint venture of Vratsinas Construction Co. of Little Rock and Turner Construction Co. of Dallas and New York believes the night shift is necessary to keep the job on track.

Art Hunkele, senior project manager, strongly denies the arena will open late.

"There are no delays," Hunkele says. "We're making it up and resequencing things. And this damn job is going to be done on Aug. 11. We're going to give a certificate of occupancy on Aug. 11."

It seems very difficult to support Hunkele's optimistic prediction, however. Baker Concrete Construction Inc. of Monroe, Ohio, the concrete contractor, says it will not even complete its work until July 13, only 29 days before Aug. 11. Baker made that projection in a detailed Feb. 4 project report.

And based on three of VCC/Turner's own projections of the construction schedule, it takes two to five months after the concrete work ends before construction is substantially completed. (See chart.)

In effect, six months after Nabholz Building and Management Corp. of Greenbrier was fired for being behind schedule and performing poor work, apparently no time has been made up on the arena. There are indications as much as two months has been lost because of steel installation delays.

"The job was three months behind schedule when we started [in December 1997]," says Ray Nabholz, president of NBMC, who was denied more than $1 million in billings. "And it's still three months behind. Using my money to pay for overtime, extra manpower, extra cranes and equipment, the project continues to lose time and slip further behind."

Even Bob Russell, chairman of the Multi-Purpose Civic Center Facilities Board for Pulaski County, says the Aug. 11 date may not be made. "But I still think we'll be ready for having our opening event in early October," Russell says.

$50,000 Night Work

Hunkele, who says there are more than 300 workers at the arena, proposes that a nightly graveyard shift can make up some of the lost time. Night shifts began Feb. 9 and will run through March 1. Costs should be about $50,000, Hunkele says, but Mid-Continent will not underwrite any of the night shift pay.

"We have no objection to your proposed night shift work, provided VCC/Turner and/or the board agrees to pay all extra costs associated with such night work," Paul LaForge, surety services manager with Mid-Continent, writes in a Feb. 16 letter to Hunkele.

"It was my understanding from the correspondence sent to me that VCC/Turner had already acknowledged that the night shift premium and associated cost would be paid for by the board," LaForge says in a telephone interview from Tulsa.

Hunkele says, "We'll have to throw it all in the mix and let the attorneys fight that one out. [LaForge] can take that position. We have some contingency funds to take care of it. We have to settle up with Mid-Continent at the end of the day and that will be one of the issues."

LaForge says Mid-Continent, which had bonded NBMC for the Alltel job, has already paid $3.5 million to keep the project going, and there is a "significant amount of money required to finish this job."

"So anybody who wants to say the surety is trying to renege on its responsibility is totally wrong," LaForge says. "We're the only person so far who has walked up to the table with dollars. I sure haven't seen VCC/Turner walk up to the table and offer to pay.

"If you throw enough of other people's money at a problem, you can do almost anything."

Steel Delays

The holdup in recent months has been due, at least in part, to mistakes by AFCO Steel of Little Rock and Steel City Erection Co. of Birmingham, Ala., sources say.

Robert Nelson, a senior vice president with AFCO, declined to comment about the arena project, citing a clause in AFCO's contract that he says restricts contact with the media.

In a Feb. 16 letter to Hunkele, LaForge says, "The work currently being performed would have been performed months ago had it not been for the delays and fabrication errors attributed to AFCO."

LaForge acknowledges he is not at the site daily, but he says productivity problems with the steel, major steel fabrication problems and general coordination problems related to the entire project seem to be causing the delays on the steel work.

Russell insists, however, that all the delays on the job site still can be blamed on NBMC.

"We still are thoroughly convinced that the problems we have and have had up to this point are all the fault of Nabholz Building and Management," Russell says. "And we still feel the bonding company should pay all the overtime costs that we've paid out of our contingency fund."

The steel problems include:

• AFCO, some contractors on the job indicate, has had problems fitting together its steel trusses in the roof of the arena. When the jack trusses — steel beams connecting the two main east and west trusses in the roof — were supposed to be installed recently, their length was off by several inches, contractors say. The time it took to modify the jack trusses to the correct length possibly added two weeks to the job.

"Things happen on every job," Hunkele says. "Some things fit and some things don't. Some guys fix them. Nabholz is not here because they didn't fix them."

• Steel City has been out of whack on some of the steel concourse steps. Baker Construction, and NBMC subcontractors who are working on the job, were required to lay extra concrete on the raker beams forming the steps on the lower level. From 18-36 inches of additional, more expensive lightweight concrete was poured in some places to build up the steps.

• Baker's huge 2-foot by 3-foot, six-page schedule submitted Feb. 4 has more than 30 references to delays in steel placement on major jobs by Steel City, who is installing steel for AFCO.

Whenever the arena is finished, don't be surprised if NBMC, and possibly Mid-Continent, file lawsuits over problems at the arena.

"There's always that possibility," Mid-Continent's LaForge says of a lawsuit. "I would not want to say, 'No, there is no possibility [of Mid-Continent suing]' and then somebody say later, 'Well, you said you wouldn't.' In other words, we are leaving our options open."