SBJ/September 6 - 12, 1999/No Topic Name

After the accident at Miller Park, there's lots to do but few to do it

Finding enough workers is one of the biggest obstacles keeping Miller Park's developers from getting their ill-fated project back on track.

Progress on the $400 million stadium slowed to a crawl after a crane collapsed July 14, killing three steelworkers and causing $50 million to $75 million in property damage. The crane was lifting a 400-ton segment of the stadium's retractable roof at the time of the accident.

With no work, all but 100 of the estimated 800 workers left for other projects while state and federal investigators combed through the debris.

Now the crumpled framed of the crane called Big Blue has been pulled from the stands, and a large part of the steel debris has been removed. The investigations continue, but work is resuming in other parts of the stadium. The trouble is finding people to do the work, officials say.

"We could have a difficult time," said Bob Decker, vice president for Huber Hunt & Nichols, a partner in HCH Joint Ventures. "A lot of boomers are already heading south." The "boomers" are people who follow the seasonal construction market the same way migrant farm workers follow the ripening of crops.

Last week HCH Joint Ventures, the baseball park's general contractor, put out a call through the trade unions for workers to return to the job site.

Decker said he expects a shortage of workers, but he cannot predict in which trades they will appear.

The project may get some much needed luck, however.

With fall and winter approaching, road and bridge projects have begun shutting down, so their workers will soon be available. Construction workers from Minnesota and the Dakotas, where winters are harsher, also will be appearing in town soon.

The other major obstacle contractors face is getting the steel and concrete needed to make repairs.

The high-strength, Grade 65 steel used in the roof is made by special order in Luxembourg. Getting steel to replace the damaged girders could have taken months, but contractors got lucky here, too.

"They only run the Grade 65 steel at certain time of the year, and we happen to hit the schedule right," said Frank Busalacchi, chairman of the construction committee for the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District board.

A shipment of 1,600 to 2,000 tons of steel is on its way from Luxembourg.

HCH Joint Ventures also found some of the high-grade steel in storage in Great Britain and in the Midwest. The steel should arrive in fabricating plants around the United States later this month or by early October and should arrive as usable components in Milwaukee by the beginning of the year.

At least 20,000 tons of steel will be used in Miller Park, about 12,000 in the roof, Busalacchi said.

The stadium was two-thirds complete at the time of the accident, which occurred in right field.

Most work being done now is plumbing and electrical work on the left-field side of the stadium. Workers also are completing the track that will support the retractable roof. The track is supported by concrete columns and beams that were not damaged in the accident.

Damage done to the stadium will be covered by insurance.

The Brewers are insured up to $20 million for revenue the team will lose from a delayed opening. (For a story on the financing of the repair work, see page 14.)

If you have construction updates or other news, contact Eric Mitchell at (704) 973-1411 or emitchell@amcity.com.

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