Hartford Courant: Why are we still waiting for Dillon Stadium's construction to finish?
Hartford Athletic is finally playing soccer at Dillon Stadium, but why are we still waiting for construction to finish?
Hartford Athletic of the United Soccer League played its first home game at the renovated Dillon Stadium Saturday, and it was a bit like moving into a newly built house that still lacks carpeting, wiring for light fixtures and a paved driveway.
It didn’t stop more than 5,000 fans from jamming into the stands, but the place still resembled an active construction site.
Hartford’s newest professional sports team has another home game this Saturday, and workers are racing this week to finish the job on the $14 million project.
Last Saturday, portable toilets filled in for some restrooms that weren’t up and flushing. The section of the concourse wrapping around the far side of the west stands still needed to be poured with cement. And areas supposed to be landscaped with grass were still raw earth.
Hartford Athletic made its debut at Dillon more than two months after its home opener on May 4, playing at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. This week, dozens of construction workers were back at Dillon, aiming for the majority of the work to be done by the beginning of August.
So what happened to delay the renovation of the 1930s structure?
Major design obstacles hampered the renovation
The south end of the playing field — and the paved areas around it — were found to be a foot lower than the north end, requiring a major regrading of the field. The foundation supports on the west stands weren’t strong enough to hold up a modern seating structure, forcing a complete replacement. All the utility systems, including electric and plumbing, were shot. “This was a project looking for a crisis every day,” Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said, during a tour of the venue Tuesday.
High contractor bids, rainy spring delayed construction
CRDA, which is overseeing the renovation, had expected to begin construction in August of last year. But the schedule got pushed back to November when contractor bids came in too high. The design team eliminated two buildings and party decks along the north side of the field and along the top of the west stands to cut costs.
The budget still rose to $14 million from the initial, $10 million; The budget, mostly financed by state taxpayer funds, was still too tight with not enough room to ask contractors to work longer hours, according to Robert Saint, CRDA’s director of construction services. A particularly rainy spring compounded delays, Saint said.
On top of that, there was a state investigation into team owner Bruce Mandell, the lead partner with the Hartford Sports Group, complicating the release of state money needed for the project.
The lights won’t be on until September
Dillon now is open for games, but only during the day. Four new, 120-foot lighting poles won’t arrive until late August or early September, and they will take a couple of weeks to install. Freimuth said CRDA had hoped to use the existing stadium lighting system, but it couldn’t be upgraded to the standards required by modern television broadcasting. The new system, Freimuth said, required structural changes to anchor such tall lighting poles, delaying their design and installation.
Hopefully, the games will be later in the day because those general admission seats in the metal stands felt pretty toasty in Tuesday’s late morning sunshine.
With all the new restrooms at the venue, why are there portable toilets near the main entrance?
Plumbing and water testing has not been completed in the restrooms near the main entrance. The restrooms may be open in time for this weekend’s game, but it is still not certain. The two sets of restrooms at the south side of the field are operating.
Landscaping will have to wait for cooler weather
With temperatures reaching into the 90s, Freimuth said it is likely wide swaths of dirt won’t be seeded with grass until the fall. Until then, the areas may be covered with gravel, he said.
Journalists are sweating and not because they are on deadline
Portable air conditioning units just didn’t cut it in the press box on Saturday, and getting the permanent system connected is a top priority, Saint said. Getting power to the elevator that leads to the deck outside the press box also is high on the list, he said.
Why not just wait for the first game until the stadium was completed?
Hartford Athletic — and the city — wanted to stick to a July 13 opening at Dillon because the team had played a good chunk of its first season on the road. “It was important for the team and to the city to not let it slip,” Saint said.
If all this work still needs to be done, how can Hartford Athletic play games at Dillon?
Enough work was completed by July 13 to secure a temporary certificate of occupancy from the city. Each week, until the project is done, city inspectors will have to visit Dillon and reissue a temporary CO.
Read Kenneth Gosselin’s original article in the Hartford Courant here.