New delay looms for Coronado auditorium
11th-hour fire sprinkler demand could push project into school year

       Although schedule discussions were continuing this week between School District 11 and contractor Gerald Phipps Construc-tion, it's quite likely that students will again find fencing around the auditorium when they return for the 2008-09 school year Aug. 18.  The auditorium interior this week.
Westside Pioneer photo
       Jeff Brisk, Phipps' project superinendent, said he has 80 workers on the job, averaging 58 hours a week, and he has extensively analyzed the schedule, but sees no way progress can be accelerated enough to have the auditorium ready for the start of school, as had been planned.
       What Brisk now anticipates is the auditorium opening about two weeks into the school year, with the orchestra and band areas (located behind a common wall just west of the auditorium) not available until late September. Those classrooms, offices and storage areas were not part of the original project, but got tied in after a recent fire inspection directed that they need a sprinkler system just like the new auditorium. That required not just new lines to the orchestra/band rooms but a wider water line (4 inch instead of 3) from the main connection in the administration building 600 feet away, Brisk explained. The added cost to the project will be somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000, according to District 11 Facilities Director Mike Maloney.
       In an interview this week, Maloney said the Fire Department has told him that if the school undertook extra fire safety precautions the auditorium could open even if the sprinkler system was not yet operational. That was why he insisted the facility could be available from day one of the coming school year.
       Maloney was also not yet convinced that the band and orchestra area will be unusable Aug. 18. "That's to be determined," Maloney said. "We're pushing the contractor so we can occupy those classrooms. We're still in negotiations, trying to work it out. He's given us his worst-case scenario. Well see what we can do." Phipps crews were putting the final exterior finish on the new Coronado auditorium this week.
Westside Pioneer photo
       As recently as May, school and contractor officials had stood by an Aug. 4 auditorium opening date. That in itself had represented a six-month delay - coming after the stunning discovery last November that the old auditorium's exterior walls had not been grouted or rebarred (even though the plans from 1970 showed they had been) and thus entirely new walls had to be built.
       The sprinkler discovery was "a major blow" to the schedule, but Brisk said there have been a myriad of other "scope changes" to slow things down - not due to anyone's mistakes but because of ripple effects from the wall issue essentially turning what had been a remodel project into new construction.
       With the sprinklers, what happened was that the Fire Department had initially looked at the auditorium plans in isolation, and as such they met the requirements. It was only in the final inspection, when the inspectors observed that the auditorium and orchestra/ band rooms are essentially one building, that the added sprinkler demand was made.
       "The fire marshal has convinced me it's the prudent thing to do for the safety of the kids," Maloney said. "So we scraped up the additional funding."
       Because the classroom ceilings are just sheetrock and the walls cement blocks, the new water line and sprinklers will have to be installed in the open along the sides of the classrooms, Brisk pointed out. However, there will be no loss of usable space, he added.
       One bright side, if a delay occurs, is that the fencing that's been around the auditorium since the old facility was demolished last December could come down once the auditorium opens. Fencing would not be needed while crews work inside on the classroom sprinkler system, Brisk said.
       The new construction issues are just the latest in a project that has been dogged with problems. Along with the delays, the original project estimate of less than $2 million has grown now to nearly $5 million. "This has been one of the most challenging projects we've had in quite some time," Maloney said. "There has been a whole sequence of events. When it comes time for [Coronado Principal] Susan Humphrey to cut the ribbon, everyone will agree it has been worth it."

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