Bummer! Weak walls delay CHS auditorium completion till summer

       Sometime in 1968, for reasons that may never be known, construction plans were finalized for the new Coronado High School showing its auditorium with fully grouted concrete-block walls.
       That the blocks were in fact hollow didn't matter until 39 years later, when crews for School District 11 contractor Gerald Phipps Construction started working with the walls as part of a project plan to renovate the old auditorium with an 18-foot higher roof and a much larger balcony.
       The result ? Without the concrete filler, the old block walls are too weak to support the new balcony. They will have to be demolished and new walls built in their place.
       The discovery will increase the project cost by as much as $450,000, but the cruelest blow may be to this year's Coronado senior class, who now will not see the project's completion until after graduation. Before this latest news, a February opening had been anticipated. The currently scheduled completion date is July 2008.
       “We had a senior meeting on Thursday,” Vice Principal David Engstrom said. “I shared the news about the auditorium, and based on the loud groan, the students were sincere in being let down.”
       District 11 Facilities Director Mike Maloney empathized, saying it was too bad district officials didn't have “X-ray vision” at the outset to see into the walls and discover the shortcoming.
       According to Terry Johns, the project manager, it's not clear what happened in 1968. “The records are pretty poor from back then,” he said. There could have been some kind of addendum that never got recorded. “It doesn't mean there was anything underhanded.”
       In any case, Maloney noted, new walls would still have had to be built to support the new balcony. And none of the work that's been done to date has been in vain. So in terms of the added cost, “it's not like it's been wasted,” he said.
       The exact increase is not yet known - a new design is being drawn up, and then Phipps will use that to get solid costs from its subcontractors. With approval of the D-11 school board last week, Maloney has budgeted $450,000 to cover the bill; he believes that will be more than enough. The money is coming out of the contingency fund for the district's bond issue projects and won't affect such work at any other schools, he said.
       This won't be the first time the district has had to dip into contingency funds on the Coronado auditorium project. In the 2004-05 bond issue elections, its cost had been estimated at $1.4 million. A more detailed analysis about a year ago raised the total to $3.9 million. Inflationary costs had jumped it to $4.4 million before the discovery.
       “We're just kind of snakebit on this one,” Johns said. “It's one of the pitfalls when you're renovating. Working brand-new is almost easier. You know what you're getting.”
       There is one silver lining in the auditorium news. One of the regrets about the old auditorium had been the way it was originally designed, so that its back end faced toward the parking lot. That alignment will be unchanged; however, Engstrom noted, a new wall could be designed with a more inviting façade. “That's what our architectural students are working on now,” he said. “There's an opportunity to design something distinctive to Coronado. I am really curious to see what ideas come out of that.”
       The catch is, there isn't much creative time left. Dismantling of the roof decking is underway now, and demolition of the remaining roof and north, south and east walls is scheduled over the weekend of Dec. 7-9, with the new walls going up soon after, according to Johns. “So we've got to decide pretty quickly,” Engstrom said.
       (As a construction side note, Maloney pointed out that the west wall of the auditorium is not affected by the demo because it is part of the one-story hallway/ lobby area which was built in 1968 as a separate structure.)
       He said the new walls will be built with grouted blocks and steel reinforcement that meet “the latest, most stringent codes.”
       Asked if the Coronado project has been the toughest of the district's bond issue projects, Maloney said, “It's proven to be a challenging one. But everyone is on board with the need. There's been no hesitation about following through and completing the project.”

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