Retaining wall cracking at new Carver High School

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 1, 2013 

During a routine check last summer, an alert Muscogee County School District employee discovered hairline cracks in the 53-foot-high retaining wall beyond the new Carver High School's softball field.

Now, those cracks have multiplied and some of those gaps are more than 1-inch wide, but a year's worth of inspections and negotiations has forged a plan for repairs, which are scheduled to start next week.

"I was just doing my job," Rexon Byrd, the district's senior project manager, said with a shrug as he showed the Ledger-Enquirer the cracks Wednesday.

Carver was rebuilt on its Eighth Street site and reopened last August. Freeman & Associates of Columbus and Balfour Beatty Construction of Atlanta are partners as the project's main contractors. Gardner Spencer Smith Tench & Jarbeau of Atlanta is the architect. The $37 million project was funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax voters approved in 2009. Beyond the 225,000-square-foot, 67-classroom building, the project gave Carver the baseball and softball fields it had lacked.

To clear land for those fields, construction workers had to flatten a hill. The dirt that piled up had to be contained, so a retaining wall was built along the rear of the property facing Illges Road.

And this isn't a ho-hum wall; it's five stories high and about two football fields long -- keeping the Delmar Apartments 30 feet away safe from an avalanche.

So what at first looked like only a cosmetic concern turned into a significant problem as the cracks in the bricks and the gaps between the blocks grew.

"The cracks in and of themselves are not structural," said Bobby Hecht, the district's construction director. "The facing of that wall is just a shell.

"The fact that the cracks have manifested themselves does not necessarily mean that the wall is under distress. But when we saw it, we got the architect to review the design, and there were some deficiencies in the design."

Hecht emphasized there was no reason to suspect the wall was about to collapse.

"In my opinion, there was no imminent danger," he said. "We were looking more to the long-term performance and making sure that was intact."

An independent consultant, Earth Improvement Technologies of Fort Mill, S.C., was brought in to examine the wall and propose options.

All parties involved approved the final redesign, Hecht said.

The contractor is "taking full responsibility for the deficiencies," Hecht said. "There are some legal questions concerning the responsibility of the geotechnical testing and soil evaluation."

The cost of those expenses wasn't available Wednesday.

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