No independent inspection of theater

Rock Valley College (RVC ) Board of Trustees Chairman Randy Schaefer reversed his Dec. 28 statement that there were “cracks in welds” that piece together the roof of the college’s new $12.6 million outdoor theater.

Schaefer said last week there were “no cracks in the metal welds but in the wood laminate” on the interior portion of the roof.

The roof is currently being supported by about a dozen metal poles ranging in length estimated up to 40 feet. Footings for the poles are made from stacks of brick and wood in an effort to not damage the seating area’s concrete floor. The poles extend from the floor to where several triangular wood sections of the roof meet. The roof is composed of a metal exterior and wood interior panels attached to metal plates.

Tim MacFarlene, structural engineer for the project, who works in London for Dewhurst, MacFarlene and Partners, said Monday the cracks were the result of an inappropriate parallel bolt pattern that joined wood timber beams to connecting metal plates. MacFarlene said the parallel bolt design didn’t fully account for differences in expansion and contraction rates between the wood and metal plates, which caused “horizontal cracks” in the wood beams.

The wood and metal expand and contract independently of each other in accordance with temperature and humidity levels.

If the wood cracks were not noticed by construction workers late last summer, MacFarlene said: “Probably not a whole lot would have happened, but it’s hard to say, especially 10 to 15 years down the road. There are a lot of indeterminates there. We had to do something. It was a wrong design from an engineering standpoint, and we wanted to correct it. …Everyone did a good job on this project except for this one thing. It’s not the contractor’s fault, it’s all our fault. It’s rather expensive and embarrassing for us, but we wanted to do something.”

MacFarlene also said the problem was not just aesthetic but structural and added there was “no problem with the metal welds. They were all inspected by the steel fabricator.”

Dan Bielski, project manager for the Illinois Capital Development Board, said inspection of facilities such as Starlight Theater, whether they are state or locally funded, are the responsibility of the project’s engineer and architect.

The last major structure constructed on RVC’s main campus was the technology center in 1986. For construction of that 61,000-square-foot building, retired RVC President Karl Jacobs said they requested and received a building permit from the City of Rockford, even though the permit was not required. Jacobs said RVC asked for the construction permit and inspection of the technology center because “we wanted an outside opinion and another layer of protection for the public.”

City records show Cheeseman Construction Co. of Freeport paid $825 for a permit to “construct new steel and masonry Technology Center” on May 7, 1986. Schaefer said RVC did not apply for a similar permit because they are not required to since RVC is its own taxing district.

Repairs on the origami-type roof began Dec. 19, 2003, and are expected to be completed by the end of March. Construction for the theater was conducted in three major phases since 1999. The roof was built between December 2002 and June 2003.

Former RVC President Roland Chapdelaine originally announced the theater’s construction was $8 million. However, the project has had at least $4.6 million in construction cost overruns. Final construction costs were expected Jan. 27. However, Schaefer said Sam Overton, RVC’s chief financial officer, informed trustees Jan. 27 that release of the theater’s final construction costs and change orders will be delayed.

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