Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Washington Capitals’ new training facility looks like a skeleton. Naked steel beams arch in every direction, thousands of feet of dozens of kinds of cables and wires snake their way here and there and pipes of every size and shape wind through or around thick or thin pillars with scores of workers scurrying about in 90-degree heat.

“Pretty impressive, eh?” asked George Parr, the Caps’ project manager, smiling and sweating as he led a tour of the 137,000-square foot facility under construction atop a parking garage next to Ballston Common Mall in Arlington.

That an addition covering 41/2 acres was being built atop an existing seven-story parking garage was impressive enough. The problems associated with that type of construction were numerous and challenging and have mostly been overcome since work started in March 2005.

But the $42 million facility remains behind schedule. It was supposed to be finished by late July; now that date has been pushed to Sept.26. There was a problem with steel, Parr said, costing three weeks of time, and then a crane failed, throwing the project two more weeks behind. There was a ripple effect from those two delays that workers are trying to overcome.

As a result, the Caps still have not announced where they will hold training camp starting Sept.14, saying only that “local” sites are under consideration as well as Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., and Verizon Center in the District. The team hopes to be in its new facility before the season opener Oct.5.

The facility, which Parr said is “85 percent done,” will serve as practice home for the Caps and corporate headquarters for the hockey team and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. Arlington County is sharing some of the cost; the facility will be open for community use throughout the year.

Besides office space, community rooms, game rooms, dressing and changing rooms, training and medical facilities, the structure will house two full-sized (85x200 feet) NHL rinks, with a view of the Washington Monument and Capitol six miles away. Parr said they will be the only full-sized rinks in Northern Virginia inside the Capital Beltway.

The team had been looking for a new practice home since it outgrew Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, Md., where it had been since 1991. A location closer to Verizon Center was desirable.

“[Team president] Dick Patrick wanted a location that was closer so the players could be a part of the community,” Parr said. “This is only six miles from Verizon door-to-door. I suggested it to Dick, he took it to Arlington County officials, it percolated over time, ownership liked the idea and it was decided to go ahead. I’ve got to say Arlington County worked real hard to make this happen.”

Still, offices and two large ice rinks atop a seven-story parking garage?

“I once worked for a company that developed ice rinks, and we had the idea of doing them atop parking decks,” Parr said. “I knew this area pretty well in terms of where rinks could go, and there weren’t that many places.”

Parr said there were “three [engineering] studies done showing the existing structure could support this project.

“And there was a lot of reinforcement done to the existing building to accommodate the addition,” he added. “The experts who examined it said this could be done, and it has been done.”

But the location created problems. For instance, to pour cement for the rinks eight stories up, vibration in the structure had to be eliminated. So the pour had to be scheduled for the early-morning hours of successive Saturdays, with 50 trucks lined up waiting to dump their churning loads. The pour, 270 cubic yards of cement each, had to be continuous. Both mornings went off without a hitch.

“Pretty neat, eh?” Parr said.

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