The Connecticut Convention Center is little more than a decade old and already the building may need major repairs that could cost as much $5 million.
The repairs involve the elevated plazas on the north side of the convention center where water has been seeping into the plaza and leaking into the spaces below. The spaces include a part of the parking garage and corridors that include event staging areas, a carpentry shop and other "back of house" areas.
The cause of the trouble — first observed a couple of years ago but which has gotten steadily worse in the past year or so — has not been fully determined but may be related to the building's massive expansion joints and possibly waterproofing under the plaza brick pavers.
Although the scope of the repairs is still uncertain, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has included $5 million in his capital budget proposal for the repairs. The work would be paid for by taxpayer-backed bonds, if it wins approval.
The Capital Region Development Authority, which oversees the operation of the state-owned venue, said the building, opened in 2005, may only be a little over a decade old but that is not necessarily new by building standards.
Michael W. Freimuth, the authority's executive director, said, in any case, the troubles with the leaking are only likely to get worse.
"The biggest mistake at the XL Center was allowing small, life cycle systems to go well beyond their years," Freimuth said. "We can't follow the same path with the convention center."
The authority is seeking $250 million from the legislature — $125 million over the next two fiscal years —for a multi-year makeover of the XL Center. The request faces an uncertain future this session. Some of the building's mechanical systems are original to the 42-year-old sports and entertainment arena in the heart of downtown Hartford.
The convention center opened on June 2, 2005 at a cost of $375 million. The convention center hosted 153 events last year and attracted 322,000 visitors. According to the authority, the 1.6 million square foot complex — including the 540,000 square foot convention center — basically breaks even on an annual budget of $8 million, half funded by fees.
The elevated plazas connect the convention center to the Marriott hotel and provide an alternative way to get in and out of the buildings other than their main entrances.
Repairing the water leaks is expensive because it means ripping up nearly an acre of pavers and a complex system underneath them that includes a snow-melting system embedded in concrete. All this must be removed to reach the waterproofing, if it is determined to be part of the problem.
Further complicating the repairs are dealing with the expansion joints tied into the plazas that allow for the building's daily and seasonal expansion and contraction, said Robert Saint, director of construction services at the Capital Region Development Authority, which oversees the operations of the convention center.
"It's like that second level deck in your house above the living room outside the master bedroom suite that is now leaking and destroying the ceiling in the living room below," Saint said.
"You're not walking out on the waterproofing," Saint said. "You're walking out on some nice looking Azek or mahogany deck that you have to take apart to get at the waterproofing to fix the problem and then you have to rebuild the deck."
Saint, who was involved in the original construction working for developer Waterford Group, declined to speculate on how long the plazas should have lasted without leaking, since the source of the water troubles has not yet been determined.
The convention center has more elevated plazas than most of the country because none of the structure, including parking, is underground. The venue was built entirely above the ground because it is located on what was a swampy area near the Connecticut River. The designs for elevated plazas were complicated by the need to have a snow-melting system.
The authority is considering two options. One would require removing the pavers and concrete below it and replacing the waterproofing. Another alternative that would be more costly and bring the price tag to $5 million would be to redesign the entire system.
"Do we do a Band-Aid or do we come up with a different design that will really solve the problem once and for all and hold up much better and we get the 20-25 years we should?" Saint said.
Whatever alternative is chosen, it won't be an easy job to coordinate, Saint said. The plazas have to remain open to pedestrians.
"It's not like you can put a big crew in here and tear it up and do it in the most economical way," Saint said. "You have to do it piece-meal."
The work also would include the intersection of Columbus Boulevard and Front Street where traffic has taken a toll on pavers. It is likely, Friemuth said, that the decorative pavers throughout the plaza areas would be replaced by something more durable.