Building slabs questioned

By Chris Nelson

Comiskey Park has been a busy place lately. Fireworks on the field, firearms in the stands and now a crumbling infrastructure have combined to make the South Side stadium a hotbed of activity.

These activities all have occurred miles away from NIU. But the fact that the manufacturer of some of the precast slabs that are crumbling in the stadium also is providing some of the slabs for the new parking structure at NIU brings the issue closer to home.

According to a Chicago Sun-Times article published Friday, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority has filed a lawsuit against an architectural firm and two general contractors involved in Comiskey’s construction. The authority, who owns the stadium, contends that the parties named in the suit ought to pay for cracks in the slabs that are used as fan and stadium vehicle thoroughfare.

The manufacturer for part of the Comiskey project also is supplying slabs used in NIU’s new parking structure, which is presently being erected just south of Founders Memorial Library.

The facility, with its $8.6 million price tag, subsequently has come under suspicion as being prone to the same defects experienced at Comiskey Park.

According to Cary Handke, precast project foreman, NIU has no need to worry about the new parking structure crumbling to the ground.

Handke, who himself briefly worked on the Comiskey project, said the park was constructed using what are called hollow-core slabs. Such slabs are essentially concrete planks of varying size with several holes in the center. In effect, they resemble pieces of an erector set.

The hollow-core pieces are used quite often for light-traffic areas, most notably in hotels and other public establishments, Handke said.

The NIU parking structure, however, uses a double-T slab, which Handke says is designed to handle a great deal more stress than the precast pieces at Comiskey.

“The double-T is a very dependable and proven precast piece,” Handke said, adding the piece is designed for cars and other weightier objects.

Handke speculated that the complexity of the Comiskey Park project is another factor separating it from the NIU parking facility.

“Comiskey was a really complex structure, not cut-and-dry like this,” Handke said, referring to the NIU project.

When informed of the connection between NIU and Comiskey Park, Patty Perkins, assistant to the vice president of Finance and Planning, spoke with resolve.

“Basically, we require certification of every slab from the manufacturer,” Perkins said. The certification acts as a type of guarantee from the manufacturer, J.W. Peters and Sons.

Handke downplayed any concern that the situation might raise, saying, “The fact that the pieces are precast is about the only connection or similarity.”