- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Officials involved in the construction of the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark in Southeast said yesterday work on the stadium is progressing on time and hailed the arrival of the ballpark’s steel framework as an indication that things are moving swiftly.

More than 300 workers from the joint venture involving the Clark, Hunt and Smoot construction companies have toiled at the site since April and last week began raising the first sections of steel — a key stage in determining whether the project is on schedule to open in 17 months.

“To put it very simple, we are on time, on budget and we expect to have the ballpark open by April of 2008,” said Allen Lew, chief executive officer of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which has oversight of the project.

The construction team has excavated more than 300,000 cubic yards of dirt at a rate of more than 5,000 cubic yards a day. It also has installed more than 55,000 cubic yards of concrete, and visitors to the site can see the infield stands starting to take shape. Nearly 2,400 pilings have been put in place, and nine cranes are being used to help erect the steel.

The swift pace of work at the site belies the fact that construction was delayed for months while the city and Major League Baseball haggled over terms of a lease and construction agreement. Construction officials said they were able to move quickly in part because the sports commission agreed on a “design-build” plan that allows construction to begin even while architectural plans are being completed. Furthermore, the sports commission also saved time by ordering the steel for the stadium early this year, long before construction was permitted to begin, and by ordering excavations and the relocation of utilities nearly a year ago.

The construction team also has had no problems finding adequate labor.

“We’re doing exactly what we planned on paper,” said Alan Petrasek, a senior vice president with Clark Construction. “The good news is that when you build a ballpark, everybody wants to say they worked on it. Everybody wants a piece of it.”

The average contractor at the site works from about 7 a.m. until dusk, six days a week. More than 50 percent of the workers are District residents, and more than 50 percent of the subcontracting work has gone to local, small and disadvantaged businesses.

Construction has been relatively unaffected by weather, except for a three-day delay in June resulting from heavy rains that flooded the site. Weather could pose a problem this winter; heavy doses of snow, rain or ice could halt construction, and if the weather is too cold, it could affect the ability to mix concrete. But Petrasek said the timeline for construction takes into account two potentially harsh winters, meaning mild weather actually could push construction ahead of schedule.

While construction of the stadium is moving along, there is lingering debate about how to satisfy a requirement for 1,225 parking spaces at the ballpark site. The commission is considering a plan to build two levels of below-ground parking and one level of above-ground parking at the north end of the stadium site. But that plan would require an additional $75 million beyond the city’s $611 million budget for the project. The D.C. Council will vote next week to allow the sale of development rights to be used for stadium construction. The city is also considering using surface parking lots across from the stadium and could resurrect a plan by developer Herb Miller to build two garages surrounded by condominiums and retail space.

Construction officials yesterday said the city’s debate over parking should have no affect on the ability of the Nationals to play in the ballpark in Opening Day of 2008.

Lew yesterday insisted the stadium project is on budget. The commission spent $7 million more than planned for environmental cleanup of the site but has been able to make up the difference by cutting costs in other areas, such as financing fees.