Aloha Stadium design flaw undetected for 35 years - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Aloha Stadium design flaw undetected for 35 years

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Nearly 40 years old, the Aloha Stadium has cost tens of millions of dollars in safety repairs and will cost taxpayers as much as $150 million more over the next few years just to remain safe.

But a Hawaii News Now investigation revealed a serious design flaw that went undetected at the stadium for 35 years.

State officials and the experts they hired agree that the stadium is structurally safe, but keeping it that way has already cost taxpayers over $70 million and more than double that is now needed to keep it safe for the immediate future.

The Aloha Stadium cost $37 million when it was finished in 1975.

Its ability to morph from baseball to football required a lightweight, structural steel skeleton, which has also proved to be very expensive to keep safe.

Scott Chan, the stadium manager, described the stadium's current condition as: “Very safe. I don't think we would allow anyone to come through if we didn't think it was a facility that we could let people walk through our front doors."

Studies obtained by Hawaii News Now, including wind tunnel modeling, seismic and corrosion reports, identified numerous weaknesses that needed urgent repairs.

Beginning in 2009 -- the state began one project after another -- such as strengthening the cantilevered struts that support the roof over the stands. Replacing the roof during a three-year period cost $34 million.

"We've been very fortunate that we've been getting the necessary funds from the legislature to make the necessary fixes," said Charlie Toguchi, chair of the Stadium Authority, the board that oversees the facility.

Photos from an engineers' report in 2010 showed paint crumbling at various key connections in the stadium. The experts said "distressed paint" indicated connections were slipping.

Another picture showed a fractured welded joint that needed repair.

But worst of all was the discovery of a previously unnoticed -- and until now unreported -- design flaw, 35 years after the stadium opened. Connections on the beams and braces at the very end of each of the sideline stands were found to be "very highly over stressed."

"This is likely to be a fairly brittle failure and could happen without significant warning," said engineers in the report.

"We're just fortunate that we had caught this particular flaw before it could have been a serious problem," Chan said.

The state spent nearly $400,000 to reinforce those areas before the beginning of the 2010 football season, because engineers said the problem was so bad it needed to be fixed before the stadium was used again.

The state has spent more than $70 million in the last five years making safety improvements.

For example, $800,000 was expended to stiffen the raised concourse pedestrian bridges, installing tension rod stays to eliminate an unsettling "bounciness" pedestrians experienced.

"When you get to a facility that's 40 years old, it takes some money to upkeep," Toguchi said.

Just to keep the stadium safe over the next five or so years, the state estimated another $152 million will have to be spent. So even if the process of building a new stadium gets under way, the taxpayers will have to keep shelling out a lot of money on the old one.

"Money needs to be invested in this facility to keep it up and running until we make the decision of whether we renovate it in its entirety or whether we go out and build a new facility," Chan said.

The state is in the process of hiring a consultant to come up with recommendations and costs of either renovating the existing stadium or building a new one.

And after the millions in improvements over the last five years, state officials say the stadium now meets current building code standards.

Hawaii News Now's stadium investigation is part of a joint project with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Monday morning the Star-Advertiser sorts out the options for the future of Aloha Stadium and Monday night on Hawaii News Now at ten, a closer look at whether the stadium is a good deal for the University of Hawaii football program.

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