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Science Center Roof Gets New Fix

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

February 29, 2008

It was supposed to take just a few weeks, but the effort to fix two sagging sides of the "magic carpet" roof atop the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford is now expected to take several months, contributing to the delay of the facility's opening to March 2009.

Structural designers decided recently that both the east and west overhangs of the building's roof were in need of more support. The western side fix is complete; the eastern, more dramatic overhang that reaches for I-91 and the Connecticut River should be complete and the roof put back in place by May, said Science Center President Theodore Sergi.

"When it goes back up, it's going to look just like it did before," Sergi said of the eastern overhang. "But our design team felt it needed to be redesigned."

"Everything else is on track, all systems are go," Sergi said.

In fact, the major heating and cooling units are on site and their piping and ductwork installation are underway. The exterior glass and metal walls are going up, the loading dock and garage are largely complete, and plumbing work has begun. On the operations side, contracts for ticketing and a gift shop were recently signed.But the roof famous first for its sweeping design and now for its redesign has been a snag in the science center's construction.

The center held a "topping off" ceremony in mid-August to commemorate the installation of the building's final piece of steel. But by the end of the month, the center's quality control inspectors noticed an unexpected sag. The eastern sag was more dramatic, and the roof did not have its intended structural strength.

It's still unclear just who is to blame. The architects, their engineers, and the construction manager blame the steelmakers and erectors, and vice versa. The issue isn't just pride, but also money and who might end up on the hook.

Letters between the firms working on the project throughout much of last October and November showed clear disagreement. Structural engineers at Thornton Tomasetti Inc., working for Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, said, among other things, that the roof was unduly stressed, causing sag, because the contractors who put it up did so before attaching several steel plates. The construction manager, Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, agreed.

But the erector, Berlin Steel, says it raised the roof just as spelled out in the contract documents, and argues the problem could be attributed to flaws in the making of the steel done by Cives Steel Co. as well as the "combined effect of allowable fabrication and erection tolerances."

Whoever is to blame, all agreed a fix had to happen.

So in late November, workers began lowering pieces of the eastern overhang. Earlier this month, designers decided that the eastern overhang would need more internal support.

To do that, the designers decided to make and install a system of rods that will attach to the roof on one side and a steel column on the other similar to a cable stayed bridge. The rods eventually encased in the roof structure itself will support the cantilevered roof, but will not be visible.

Sergi who had hoped the facility would be open by late December 2008 had no estimate on the cost of the repair, but he stressed that all parties are working cooperatively to finish the job. Once the job is complete, an independent consultant will assess the roof, the problem, and the fix and work toward a proposed settlement, he said. Should that process fail, there is always the possibility of litigation.

Sergi, however, said that any additional cost won't be borne by state taxpayers. The $150 million project got $107 million from the state. The rest came from the federal government and private donors.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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