KEARNS — Seven months after the collapse of the Olympic speedskating oval's roof, the project now has another serious problem.

The concrete ice oval itself, the heart of the project, is now having to be torn up and redone because of flaws that occurred when it was poured three weeks ago. That has forced two national speedskating events that were to be held in Kearns in January to be moved elsewhere and jeopardizes the world single-distance championships scheduled for March.

Workers began tearing up the oval Monday, with an eye to completing reconstruction within a month. Work is proceeding apace on the surrounding building and related construction.

"My reaction was severe disappointment" upon hearing the news last week, said Fraser Bullock, chief financial officer for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. "But it was a very easy decision to decide to replace the concrete."

Representatives of SLOC and Layton Construction, the general contractor, all say whatever the final cost figures might be, they want a "perfect" surface for skaters in 2002.

"I'm not going to say (the oval) was 99.9 percent perfect, but it was pretty close," said Alan Rindlisbacher, Layton's marketing director. "Our goal all along has been to create the fastest ice in the world. We felt we had to strive to come as close to perfection as we could, so we're going to do it again."

The oval consists of several layers — "an ice-sheet sandwich," as Rindlisbacher put it. From the bottom up, the first layer is a network of heat tubes, intended to keep a constant temperature under the oval to prevent cracking of the concrete. Then there's a sand base, a plastic sheet, two inches of rigid foam board and then two layers of plastic sheeting with a lubricant between them to accommodate expansion and movement of the concrete. Freeze tubes, rebar and freeze tube supporting structures are located in the concrete itself.

The problem was that when the concrete was poured, freeze tubes in several places moved off the wire ties anchoring them to the rebar and floated closer to the surface than they should have.

If left, that would have resulted in uneven freezing of the ice, making it harder in some places and softer in others. Speedskating is a highly technical sport, with champions determined often by hundredths of seconds, and the slightest anomaly can make the difference.

"What we did was fabulous work, more than fabulous work, if you're pouring a driveway," Rindlisbacher said. "But it's not a driveway. It's the most highly technical job you can imagine."

Engineers are now working on ways to anchor the freeze tubes properly.

U.S. Speedskating, the association responsible for hosting the world single-distance championships in March, is having to make some quick decisions. Layton has committed to having the ice oval ready by then, but there is absolutely no margin for error — any other problems and it's no soap.

U.S. Speedskating President Fred Benjamin, a Chicago attorney, said the decision on whether to move the March event, probably to the Pettit Ice Center in Milwaukee, will probably be made today.

"This has to be decided very quickly," he said. "You've got skaters coming in from all over the world, and they have sponsors, travel plans. We can't be wishy-washy on this so that (the International Skating Union) doesn't say they're sick of this and stick it in the Netherlands or somewhere."

U.S. Speedskating, as well as the local sponsor, stand to get a lot of money from the international union for hosting the event, meaning SLOC could lose out if the event is moved.

Not counting the March single-distance event, three national and international events have been moved elsewhere because of oval construction problems.

Notwithstanding all the problems, Bullock said he's pleased with how Layton has handled "one of the most complex projects in the world." Layton, its insurance carrier and subcontractors, will pick up the extra cost.

"We like challenging projects, and with challenge comes risk and reward," Rindlisbacher said. "In February 2002, when we see world-class skaters flying around that track in record times, this will be but a painful memory."


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