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Las Vegas Air Traffic Control Tower Delayed Amid Costly Defects

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Courtesy Tony Illia
The new control tower at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, Nev., looks to be delayed for one-year due to "construction issues," according to the FAA.
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The new 352-ft.-tall federal air traffic control tower at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas faces at least a one-year delay for repairs after an antimicrobial coating flaked from ductwork and became airborne, say project officials.

A spray chemical was applied to dry building walls, ducts and subfloors, curbing a potentially toxic black mold called stachybotrys chartarum, which previously shutdown local buildings in the 1990s and 2000s. When the coating was placed in already lubricated flexible ducts, proper adhesion was not achieved; flakes of the substance subsequently became airborne and circulated inside rooms, reports the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), a Washington, D.C.-based 11,000-member trade union, which inspected the site in July.

“They will have to replace the building air vents, cutting through sheetrock walls and replacing them, which is quite an undertaking. It’s critical to ensure the safety of our employees,” says PASS spokesperson Jessica Cigich.

Gallagher-Kaiser Corp., Troy, Mich., the project’s HVAC and mechanical piping subcontractor, installed three air-cooled chillers, 10 air handling units, and tens of thousands of pounds of ductwork. The firm additionally was project lead coordinator for all mechanical, electrical and plumbing trades. Gallagher-Kaiser did not return requests seeking comment.

General contractor, Archer Western Contractors, a unit of Chicago-based The Walsh Group, was scheduled to finish work this summer under a $43 million contract. The project, whose total price-tag tallies $99 million with equipment, broke ground on May 31, 2011. Construction includes a two-level parking garage and guard station, plus a four-story 52,800-sq-ft. base building housing terminal radar machinery, training simulators and administrative offices. Tower operations, originally scheduled for 2015, have been pushed to late 2016 or early 2017.

Archer Western spokesman Dan Galvin declined comment for this article. Walsh has had previous trouble with defective aviation work. The contractor last year agreed to pay nearly half of a $21 million settlement for defective steel and welding cracks at O'Hare International Airport’s Terminal 2 and 3 canopies extending over the roadway in Chicago, after making $26 million in previous project repairs.

The FAA, meanwhile, “identified some construction issues” with McCarran’s new tower and building, said agency spokesman Allen Kenitzer in a written statement. The FAA is “working with the contractor” and “any outstanding issues [will be] resolved before accepting the final project,” Kenitzer said.

The 22-level cast-in-place slip-form concrete tower and accompanying buildings suffered previous construction setbacks when Congress failed to pass FAA funding legislation, resulting in 130 workers being furloughed in 2011. Taxpayers, as a result, were stuck paying over $8,500 a day on the delayed tower project.

Designed by WHPacific Inc., Anchorage, the tower is topped by a two-level 850-sq-ft controller work area or cab with 14-ft-tall angled windows for better visibility. It will be the country’s second-tallest air traffic control tower upon completion. By comparison, McCarran’s existing 30-year-old tower is about half the height with a 62% smaller cab. The airport – North America’s ninth busiest – is expected to serve 700,000 flights annually by 2020.


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