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Problems at Arkansas arena more widespread than thought

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Officials of a new civic arena acknowledged Friday that structural problems are more serious than initially thought and could require repairs on nearly all the upper-deck support beams.

The revelations came even as the arena board chairman pledged that the $80 million Alltel Arena will be open for the home debut of its minor league hockey team in just one week.

Safety concerns already forced the cancellation of the 18,000-seat arena's scheduled inaugural event -- a sold-out professional basketball game Tuesday. Arena officials said Friday the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards will not be rescheduled.

A construction problem that surfaced when one beam cracked now appears to be a pattern throughout the upper deck, said Ron Pierce, president of Garver Engineers. Of 11 concrete beams tested as of Friday afternoon, all had internal metal reinforcement bars in the wrong place and at the wrong angle.

The defective beams, which could crack under stress, are to be braced with metal posts similar to ones installed Tuesday on the beam that cracked, Pierce said. But the extra posts could block the views of some fans.

Pierce, who called the problem ''a little extraordinary,'' said it's possible that all the beams will need to be fixed. But he said that could be completed by the middle of next week.

At a cost of $9,500 per beam, the tab on repairing 19 beams could come to $180,500, said Gus Vratsinas, chief executive officer of the Vratsinas Construction Co., a partner in the joint venture building the arena.

Arena board chairman Bob Russell has said that taxpayers will not bear the burden for the repairs, but it still was undetermined who will pay.

The Arkansas RiverBlades are to play host to the New Orleans Brass on Oct. 23 in their East Coast Hockey League home debut. Workers were making preparations Friday to lay the ice.

Russell said all seats -- the upper deck included -- will be ready for the game.

''I have RiverBlades hockey tickets for the 23rd, and my family and I will be there,'' Russell said.

North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays said he planned to sit in the upper deck for the hockey game. But he added: ''If the facility is not safe, the home game will be canceled, and every other event will be canceled.''