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SALT LAKE CITY — The construction site outside Abravanel Hall features a sign that reads "Opens Spring 2015." Yet the site — featuring a backhoe parked in a field of dirt — looks nowhere near completion.
That's because the project to turn the plaza into a grassy urban park, an effort that has been in progress since September, ran into a handful of unexpected delays, from structurally unstable soil to even a mysterious cable box.
Now, the plaza is slated to be completed by the end of August, three months later than anticipated, Salt Lake County officials said Friday.
"We appreciate everyone's patience as we work to create something beautiful for them in the long term," said Erin Litvack, the county's Community Services director. "I know construction zones are never sightly, but I think in the end the public is going to be very pleased with the finished product."
The finished plaza will act as a new entry to Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, with grassy landscaping, trees, public seating, walkways and mellow lighting to offer a comfortable gathering place for outdoor concerts and other community events.
Phil Jordan, division director of the county's Center for the Arts, said the delays were mainly caused by leakage from the 30-year-old fountain that the project was originally initiated to replace.
Jordan said county officials weren't sure how long the fountain had leaked, but it had to have been for least "several seasons," he said, because the soil was soaked to the point of rendering the ground structurally unsound.
That was discovered back in February, after the old concrete had been broken up and removed, Jordan said. Since then, workers have had to take extra time to remove the soaked soil, replace it and get test results back from engineers to ensure the foundation was ready for new concrete before proceeding.
But with the test results now in and the ground ready for concrete, Jordan said the public can expect to see more active work in the construction site starting within the next couple of days.
"We're very grateful for everbody's patience with the natural way in which these outdoor exterior projects occur, particularly when involving water," Jordan said. "But we're still pleased with the progress. … Several other pieces of the project are completed, so we're pretty much on schedule with the exception of the completion date."
Another reason for delay was the underground discovery of a small cable box with unknown origin or attachments, Jordan said. After about two weeks of investigation, workers came to suspect it was an old communications cable from Temple Square, and that it was safe to be removed.
We appreciate everyone's patience as we work to create something beautiful for them in the long term. I know construction zones are never sightly, but I think in the end the public is going to be very pleased with the finished product.
–Erin Litvack, county Community Services director
Also, collaborations with city officials resulted in additional requirements to improve the sidewalk and gutter system at the construction site, which required more design time.
Plus, county officials discovered they had enough savings within the project budget to expand a radiant heating system underneath walkways to prevent icy hazards all the way up to the nearby TRAX station, so that took additional design time as well, Jordan said.
And finally, Jordan said, the plaza's complex design calls for a variety of different types and colors of concrete. Those, too, are taking longer than expected to coordinate. He said the pours are scheduled daily for the next several weeks.
Despite the setbacks, Jordan said the county has been able to stay within its $1.8 million budget thanks to contingency funds planned for the project, which is paid for through a county fund from tourism, recreation, culture and convention sales taxes.
Worth the wait
Litvack said while the delays aren't ideal, the project should still be finished by its most important deadline: the 75th anniversary of the Utah Symphony.
"It will be like rolling out the red carpet," Litvack said of the ribbon-cutting event planned for September. "We're excited to present a new entry to such a beautiful facility for such an important and amazing organization."
Jordan thanked the Utah Symphony for its collaboration and patience during the project.
"They really have been the most impacted in terms of their audiences," he said.
But Patricia A. Richards, interim president and CEO of the Utah Symphony, said the orchestra has not experienced much negative impact on sales or attitudes of patrons, and they're simply looking forward to the new plaza.
"It will absolutely be worth the wait," Richards said. "I know it will be really nice when it's done, and we have an incredible season planned for our 75th anniversary season."
Litvack said one of the stand-out features planned for the new plaza are audio speakers to broadcast the Utah Symphony's performances for patrons to enjoy outside.
"I love the idea of people sitting at the tables and chairs and listening to a rehearsal from inside the hall," she said. "I think it will create a new excitement and get people interested who might not have had the opportunity to experience our incredible symphony.
"I think it will bring a new life, if you will, to this plaza and this area of our community."