Design glitch delays Memphis Area Transit Authority center, raises costs

Source: The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, April 6, 2011
By: Tom Bailey, Jr.

The same kind of structural engineering design problems that are delaying completion of the Salvation Army Kroc Center are slowing construction of — and adding about $1 million in cost so far to — MATA’s Airways Transit Center.

The sleekly designed station for both public and Greyhound buses was to have been completed by May 8, counting 32 excused extra days for bad weather.

Now, remedial work to correct the engineering mistakes pushes the expected completion to mid- or late June, said John Lancaster, manager of planning for Memphis Area Transit Authority.

Construction had been under way about a half-year last summer when the problem was detected. In October, the MATA board budgeted an extra $1.86 million for the remedial fixes and other, unrelated change-orders.

Of that, about $1 million has been spent so far to correct the design flaws, Lancaster said.

The agency will seek reimbursement from the errors-and-omissions insurance carried by the architect, TRO Jung|Brannen (The firm changed its name last week to brg3s).

TRO Jung|Brannen was also one of the architects, with Fleming Associates, for the Kroc Center.

The engineering firm for both projects is Toles & Associates.

Asked what went wrong, owner James Toles said Tuesday, “I’m not privileged to talk about it.”

Steve Berger, managing principal of brg3s, said, “It may have been some miscalculations” by the engineers, subcontractor to the architect.

Toles and his 24-year-old firm have a long track record of engineering for public projects. They include numerous drainage projects at the airport, and site/drainage design for Bert Ferguson Aquatic Center, Whitehaven Neighborhood Center and Whitehaven Library.

MATA’s new facility at Airways and Brooks near Memphis International Airport features cantilevered canopies.

The canopies provided the first clue of a problem.

The steel’s “deflection” was more than it should have been. Deflection is the extent a load-bearing structure deforms under stress.

Berger described the deflection as just an inch more than it should have been.

The error was not a safety threat under normal circumstances, Lancaster said. “There was no risk of something falling down, but it was determined it didn’t meet all the seismic standards,” Lancaster said.

MATA hired another engineering firm, Chad Stewart and Associates of Millington, to conduct a peer review. Toles accepted the reviewer’s comments “and responded accordingly,” Lancaster said.

Zellner Construction has nearly made all the fixes. They include measures such as adding trusses, and strengthening connections and a column.

“We identified this relatively early in the construction, so it didn’t disrupt all the construction process,” Lancaster said.

While the building isn’t being completed “as quickly as everyone wanted,” Berger said, “all structural deficiencies are being taken care of.”

MATA, the contractor, engineer and architects have made a “collaborative effort” to make the fixes, he said.

Asked about reimbursing MATA for the extra costs, Berger said, “That’s certainly all under discussion at this point. There are certainly costs involved in it. But it’s something the insurance companies will be working out in the months ahead.”

Last month, the Salvation Army confirmed that there had been a glitch in the structural design of its $30 million Kroc Center. The community center is being built at the Mid-South Fairgrounds on East Parkway.

Those problems concerned “various ways you can support loads, as you do joints and bearings,” Kroc Center operations director Steve Carpenter had said.

The Kroc Center and MATA issues are a “similar story,” Berger said. Structural deficiencies at the Kroc Center “are being addressed as we speak. We can’t really assess the delay yet because some are still being implemented.”

Berger described the structural design issues as “unusual and unfortunate. It’s not something anyone wants to happen on a project. We’re all going to address the issues.”

MATA’s Airways Transit Center was budgeted to cost $15 million total, including property acquisition and demolition of what had been on the site.

MATA originally had budgeted $11.7 million for construction, but Zellner submitted the low bid of $9.62 million.

With both the engineering fixes and some unrelated change-orders, the cost now stands at $11.2 million, Lancaster said.

The new hub is designed in part to prevent MATA bus riders in the south part of town from having to go to the Downtown transit centers for transfers, MATA spokesman Alison Burton said.

In addition to housing Greyhound, the new center will have a police substation, community meeting space, restaurant, public art and the ability to accommodate light rail if and when the track is extended to the airport from Midtown.

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