Another delay for the Arch grounds renovation

02/05/2014 6:38 AM

02/05/2014 6:38 AM

It looks like hammers and hard hats will linger at the Gateway Arch grounds an additional seven months longer than expected.

Managers of the $380 million renovation project have again pushed back completion dates, this time until the end of December 2016, according to a construction schedule just released.

Leaders had long hoped they could finish by the Arch’s 50th anniversary, on Oct. 28, 2015. Then, last fall, a professional construction manager recalculated and predicted about a six-month delay.

The newest construction calendar, released Tuesday, projects the work is 14 months behind schedule.

The timetable, produced by the National Park Service, pushes back completion of several projects: one month’s delay for the park over Interstate 70, five months for the Arch grounds’ north park and seven more months for the south park.

The museum under the Arch – specifically, a renovation of its bathrooms – is charted to be the last component finished.

The news elicited various responses from the parties involved, hinting at some early strife between the agencies over the issue.

Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, said he wasn’t concerned.

“Aspects of this project are a lot more complicated than others. The museum is the most complex,” said the park chief, charged with care of the grounds. “I’m not worried about the deadlines. You just want to get it right.”

Susan Trautman, director of the Great Rivers Greenway trails district and steward of the $85 million in public bond dollars to be spent on the project, said the groups are “working through agreement issues.”

She referred detailed questions to leaders of the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation.

Staffers at CityArchRiver, which is spearheading the project’s fundraising and design work, did not immediately explain the additional setback.

Some of the delay, said Executive Director Maggie Hales, stems from an earlier disagreement between the parties. They then missed a National Park Service deadline last fall and have had to wait to bid projects. But in other cases, she said, the schedule is simply too fluid to pin down.

“There are ways, we still think, to compress the schedule,” Hales said. Park Service construction planners, she added, “give themselves loads and loads of time.”

Moreover, staff pointed out, the new museum under the Arch will open in August 2016, not December.

“These December things are really minor,” said foundation communications director Ryan McClure. “It’s not something that’s really impactful to the visitor.”

The schedule has already been a source of friction between the groups.

In November, a contingent of Arch grounds officials presented the renovation plan in Denver to the National Park Service’s top construction advisory board, whose approval is required to begin bidding and construction.

But CityArchRiver refused to provide a series of agreements between it and the park service. Foundation leaders were frustrated that the park hadn’t yet signed a separate contract, over operation of the Arch trams.

Now, however, all parties say they are happy with the project’s progress as they head tonight into a presentation and public report to the community.

The elevation of Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard along the river, said Trautman, is on schedule and under budget.

The Walnut Street bridge is down, and the Missouri Department of Transportation’s street work will largely wrap up by the end of this year in preparation for the lid over Interstate 70.

Hales said the agreements that caused consternation last fall are now all signed. And some part of nearly every project will start by the end of this year.

“It is happening,” said Bradley, the park superintendent. “I look out my window, I can see activity.

“There’s always going to be tensions, push and pull,” he continued. “But I do feel good about it.”

The agencies will report progress at a community meeting set for 6 p.m. tonight at the Ferrara Theatre at America’s Center, 701 Convention Plaza downtown.

The theater entrance is at the corner of Washington Avenue and North Eighth Street. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

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