Causes of Kingdome woes remain mystery


SEATTLE -- For all the scurrying, the meetings, frantic telephone calls and looking skyward, authorities still don't know how long it will take to make the Kingdome safe.

"Until we get our forensic evaluation of what happened done, we're not going to know the extent of the problem," Jim Napolitano, King County's facilities manager, said.

Carol Keaton, media and promotion director for the Kingdome, said, "We're aiming for July 30, the Sounders [soccer] game." But she added there is no assurance the target date can be met.

"We're going on a wish," Keaton acknowledged. Engineers continued working yesterday to determine what caused four of the dome's insulating tiles to fall Tuesday, causing cancellation of two Seattle Mariners games with Baltimore and moving a four-game series to Boston.

The fallen tiles have been sent to a lab for testing. Today, a giant crane was to be used to remove tile samples from all over the dome roof for additional tests, Napolitano said.

"Time is money, obviously, and we're going to get this done as quickly as humanly possible," he said. "But we have to do it deliberately, because we can't take a chance on this happening again."

King County and the Mariners have not held discussions yet on compensation of lost revenues, though both sides are aware it will be an issue. The games were moved to Boston at the direction of the American League, which would not accept any minor-league stadiums in the west as alternative sites.

Long-suffering fans will be remembered, promised Frank Abe, spokesman for County Executive Gary Locke.

Abe said the county is looking for some way to make up the cancellation of the home games to the fans -- especially to the children county officials saw outside the gate, disappointment on their faces.

The most likely cause of the tiles' fall is moisture that seeped through the concrete over time and was aggravated by current efforts to clean and reseal the 7-acre roof, Keaton said.

The moisture may have deteriorated the tiles, causing them to pull away from the metal clips that hold them in place.

Work on identifying and correcting the problem will continue 24 hours a day. "We're not going to open the building until it is absolutely safe," Keaton said.

The engineering firm analyzing the fallen tiles is Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. in Illinois. The same firm -- known as specialists in "failure analysis" -- was called in to investigate the 1987 collapse during construction of the north upper deck of Husky stadium at the University of Washington.

Robert LaFraugh, manager of the firm's Seattle branch, was at the Kingdome yesterday to begin looking for the causes of the problem.

The goal of the tests, says Pearl McElheran, a King County deputy executive, is to determine what caused the tiles to fall, whether more tiles are in danger and how to best respond to the situation.

But answers at the Kingdome never have come easy.

When a multipurpose stadium for Seattle was being considered in the early 1960s, there were endless squabbles first over whether it should be built, then where it should be built and how to finance it.

A critic of the Kingdome proposal then, Frank Ruano remains one today. "I'm sorry the sky is falling on the Kingdome, but I predicted as much," said Ruano. "From the beginning every corner was cut, the cheap way taken at every turn. When the debt is paid in the year 2011, we'll be lucky if the building is still standing," he added.

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