On schedule but over budget, the Kingdome is about to reopen.
Special ceremonies are scheduled in the Dome for civic leaders tomorrow, for the public and construction workers Saturday, and for the struggling Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
But the celebrations may be dimmed by other news:
Kingdome interim director Dick Sandaas said yesterday that repair costs could go as much as $9.2 million over the original $32.5 million budgeted. The chairman of Metropolitan King County Council's budget committee called it "an alarming figure."
Sandaas said unanticipated repairs and precautions needed to ensure worker safety already have caused the project to go $5.7 million over budget.
Sandaas said he hopes to find savings in other areas and to use
$3 million set aside for contingencies in the construction budget, but he couldn't yet say how much the total project will cost.
King County Executive Gary Locke, who appeared with Sandaas yesterday, said the Kingdome repairs were "under budget for the work that had been planned." He said the costs went up "because we would not sacrifice on quality and not put off problems we detected that could come back to bite us in a few years."
Sandaas said the work "had been a very difficult task and one that I am very proud of." The weekend's events are aimed at restoring community pride in the stadium.
The Sports and Events Council of Seattle and King County put the arm on the companies that have worked on the repair project for $90,000 to pay for a lunch for 200 to 250 civic leaders, a breakfast for 1,300 construction workers and their families, a full-page newspaper ad commemorating the event, and balloons and bands during public tours scheduled at midday Saturday.
"We are trying to get some positives after all the negatives," said Michael Campbell, executive director of the council, a subsidiary of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
The Kingdome was closed in July after ceiling insulation tiles fell. The falling tiles led to the discovery of more construction problems: exposed reinforcing steel in the concrete shell, the need for more extensive roof repairs and damage to locker rooms.
On Aug. 15, Locke hired Sandaas, retired executive director of Metro, to get a handle on the problem and get the Dome reopened. On Aug. 17, two construction workers fell to their deaths from a crane, shifting attention to a greater emphasis on job safety and quality.
Sandaas organized a panel of construction experts who uncovered years of maintenance neglect at the stadium and who outlined a $32.5 million prescription for its repair.
They began to realize, said Wes Hall, project manager for Wiss Janney Elstner, the design consultants called in on the project, "that this was a monumental job." Sandaas, he said, for the first time explained to county leaders what a difficult construction project it would be.
"This is the toughest thing I've ever done," Sandaas said. "It is fraught with a lot of technical issues, safety issues and a unique political environment."
Politics will continue to complicate the equation. County Council budget-committee Chairman Pete von Reichbauer planned to question Sandaas and the Locke administration at a hearing today.
That there might be budget overruns was revealed by von Reichbauer and a county auditor last week. But von Reichbauer was surprised yesterday by the price tag.
He questioned whether the construction schedule might have been slowed to allow the project to be done less expensively.
But Sandaas said timing had become critical.
He said the University of Washington and the Montlake community, where Husky Stadium is located, had no interest in hosting further home games for the Seahawks.
And he said a site-inspection committee for the Final Four college-basketball championship was visiting this week. Had the Kingdome not been ready, he said, the National Collegiate Athletic Association would have begun looking for an alternate site for the tournament.
Losing that event, Sandaas said, would have cost the community $40 million to $50 million.
Sandaas said much of the cost overrun could be traced to the roof work and safety precautions.
The roof of the stadium will have an extra vapor barrier on the outside and an additional layer of inside insulation beyond what was included in the original cost estimate.
In addition, Sandaas required there be sensors on the baskets at the end of each crane so the equipment would shut down immediately if it touched the ceiling. He also required load tests on each crane at the beginning of each shift.
Locke said that although he hoped the cost overruns wouldn't be as high as Sandaas warned, he would withstand the political heat.
"They can try all they want," he said to critics, "The final test is the building. We'll weather the criticism; we're up to it." ----------------------------------------------------------------- The Dome opener
Here are special events scheduled beginning tomorrow as the Kingdome reopens. Event expenses are being paid for privately with donations from contractors working on the Dome. Tomorrow
Noon: About 250 merchants, Kingdome tenants, business leaders and public officials will have lunch on the football sidelines.Saturday
9 a.m.: Pancake breakfast in the Exhibition Hall for 1,300 Kingdome construction workers and their families.
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Free public tours of the Dome, the Exhibition Hall and the Seattle Mariners' clubhouse. There will be free parking in the Dome's south lot B. Tours will begin in the Exhibition Hall.
5 p.m.: Annual charity Bacon Bowl football game between the Seattle and Tacoma police departments. Gates open at 3 p.m. Tickets ($10 per person, $25 for a family of two adults and two children) on sale at the stadium. Sunday
1 p.m.: Seattle Seahawks vs. Cincinnati Bengals. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m.; gates open at 11 a.m. At noon a special ceremony near the north security gate will honor two workers who died in an accident while working on the Dome ceiling. There will be a pre-game rally in the southwest area of the Exhibition Hall.