Before first pitch, 20-hour work days needed to complete ballpark

Pitchers and catchers might not be the only professionals with gloves and helmets reporting to spring training at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in February.

Chances are plumbers and painters will be there, too, along with other hard-hatted workers throughout the 160-acre facility racing to put the final touches on the new $144 million spring home of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

Officials with the teams, contractor and local governments say the project will open on time — and with minimal, if any, disruption for players and fans. But to make sure that happens, construction crews are planning to work almost around the clock over the final month or so.

West Palm Beach city codes allow construction work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. But on Sept. 22, the city granted a request by Hunt Construction Group to work seven days a week starting at 5 a.m. and ending at 1 a.m.

The contractor “sporadically” has taken advantage of the 20-hour work days over the past two months, said Marc Taylor, ballpark program manager for the teams. Through September, the average work day has been 10 to 12 hours, with a range of 500 to 600 workers on site every day.

But Taylor said he expects 20-hour work days to be more common starting this week and going until Jan. 15, the “substantial completion date” required by Palm Beach County, which will own the facility and lease it to the teams.

“Right now, they’re just trying to get as much done as they can in a 12-hour work day, knowing they’ll have some ‘all-nighters’ they need to do,’’ Taylor said.

“Twenty-hour work days have not been instituted as a normal course of business. However, we believe these will increase through December and January.’’

He said most of the activity during the late-night hours should be confined inside the stadium and clubhouse buildings and include such work as painting, plumbing and ceramic tile installation.

Chances are, Taylor said, residents living near the site, south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail, should not hear much, if any, noise late at night.

Pitchers and catchers for the Astros are scheduled to report Feb. 15. The Nationals don’t have a reporting date yet but it likely will be within a day or so of the Astros’ date.

But some players and staff for both teams will start arriving in late January, which is common for teams preparing for spring training in Florida and Arizona. And when they do, they will see plenty of construction activity around them.

Although the clubhouses and 12 practice fields will be ready, work on the main stadium will continue until the ballpark’s first game on Feb. 28 when the Astros host the Nationals.

Taylor said 20-hour work days are common in the final stages of spring training facilities, which often are built on tight schedules. The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches broke ground on Nov. 10, 2015, after more than two years of debate over where to build it and how to pay for it.

Although the project has not experienced any significant delays, the near-miss of Hurricane Matthew in October did cause work to stop for nearly a week.

“We are working hard,” Taylor said. “Everyone is committed to getting this project done, whatever it takes.”

West Palm Beach must issue a certificate of occupancy before the teams can move in.

“People are going to have to work really hard to open (in time for the first game), but my people feel like it’s achievable,’’ Mayor Jeri Muoio said.

On Friday, crews started installing the concrete staircase that fans will climb at the ballpark’s main entrance on the third base side. Among other visible developments on a brief tour by The Palm Beach Post, limited to the northwest side of the complex: A dugout on one of the Astros’ six practice fields was being buiit and sod was being laid north of the main entrance.

Officials for the county, which earmarked more than $113 million in tourism tax revenue to help finance the construction, said they have no reason to doubt the contractor’s word that the facility will open on time.

“The plan is to continue work until the latest possible date that the start of spring training will afford. Any work left to complete at that time, which is not imperative to facility operations, would be tended to as time and operations permit during the season or be brought to completion as soon as thereafter possible,” said Eric McClellan, the county’s director of facilities development and operations strategic planning.

“ So, while 100 percent final construction completion might not be achieved come the first pitch, we are still expecting that first pitch to happen based on (the contractor’s) reports.”

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