Crane Accidents

New Texas A&M Arena Rising Despite Construction Accident, Money Dispute


College Station, Texas

It is a 15-year-old vision: an arena so big that students could invite twice as many relatives and friends to graduation, rock stars would come to town and athletes no longer would feel as if they were playing in a high school gym.

It took years for Texas A&M University to get approval from the state to build the $36.8 million Reed Arena and construction finally began in the summer of 1995. By the fall of ’96, up to 40 percent of the steel skeleton was in place.

Then, on an overcast afternoon last October, the project came to a halt when the roof fell in. Literally.

A 20-foot-tall, 120-foot-long section of crisscrossed beams that was lifted about six stories by two cranes came loose, crashing into a tower that was supporting three other massive steel webs. Beams, bolts and metal pieces weighing 250 tons tumbled, smashing 16 rows of concrete where seats were to be installed.

“Major, major loss. The whole thing collapsed,” an insurance company employee said as he videotaped the mess minutes after the accident.

Remarkably, no one was killed or even seriously injured.

Of about 75 workers at the site, only three had minor injuries. One man who had been standing atop the structure – about 100 feet up – rode down on a beam and, when it became stuck 10 feet above the ground, dangled from his safety cord. After he was taken down, he was able to walk away.

The crews spent two weeks cleaning up and by mid-March the expansive webs and concrete rows were replaced. Most of the roof and interior structure are finished.

“We keep thinking the end is in sight, and things happen like the roof falls down,” sighs Steve Hodge, director of special event facilities at Texas A&M.

The 12,500-seat arena, the school’s first special events center, originally was to be done this September, replacing the tiny, 43-year-old G. Rollie White Coliseum. Now officials are aiming for spring 1998.

It will be A&M’s version of the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas at Austin, hosting basketball games, graduation, concerts, rodeos, circuses and ice shows for 43,000 students and the Bryan-College Station community.

The men’s basketball team will showcase the arena to recruits in hopes of luring them to A&M. The out-of-date G. Rollie White made a dismal impression on visiting high school seniors.

Improved basketball facilities are a must for the Aggies – primarily known as a football power – to be competitive in the basketball-rich Big 12.

“This is something they’ve been wanting and needing here for many years,” said Wesley E. Peel, vice chancellor for facilities and construction for the Texas A&M System.

When the structure fell apart, the only cost to the university was lost time. Insurance covered the $5 million price of the accident, Peel said.

Irwin Steel Erectors of Trophy Club, Texas, and Anthony Crane Rental of West Mifflin, Pa., were cited for failing to keep their cranes level on the mud, said Sherrie Moran, spokeswoman for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency proposed a $7,000 fine for Irwin and a $9,450 fine for Anthony. Both are contesting.

The university had a different financial setback.

Just three months after the collapse, A&M administrators had to answer to state regulators pressing them to raise more private money for construction when a land donation yielded $12 million less than expected.

Some members of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which approves all university construction, say their approval of the stadium in 1994 hinged on proceeds from the 250-acre parcel near Katy, and that they were told it was worth $13 million. It ultimately sold for $1 million.

The land was donated to the university in 1985 by Chester J. Reed, the alumnus for whom the arena is named.

Some board members believed A&M had promised to use private money to pay a significant portion of the construction costs.

“The biggest question is: Well, where is this $12 million going to come from?” board member Carlos Villa said.

“We approved it when they said it was $13 million and now it’s worth a million, so I just cannot help but feeling that we were somehow misled,” he said.

Villa says he was under the impression the money would go directly toward building the arena. A&M President Ray Bowen disputes that was ever the university’s intention.

Bowen says all along student fees were going to be used to pay for the stadium. A&M did plan, however, to replenish the student fund with profits from the land deal.

Bowen called the discrepancy a misunderstanding.

“It’s clear that the current members of the coordinating board had an expectation that we would put more private money in it than in fact we had originally planned,” he said.

“The way the project was committed, the construction was financed 100 percent off the revenue of general use fees but with the understanding that we would sell a piece of land to pay back and relieve some of that general use fee,” Bowen added. “So the actual dollars are in place to build it even if we don’t have any private money.”

Leonard Rauch, the coordinating board chairman, is urging A&M to try to make up the difference.

“We wanted them to have a substantial amount of money in there from donations and not taken from student use fees,” Rauch said. “They’ve assured me they’re going to do something that will satisfy us.”

Category: Accident Report

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