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Air Force Academy: Burst Pipe Caused Delay in Opening Polaris Hall

Already a year behind schedule, the Air Force Academy's Polaris Hall won't open until at least mid-March after a broken pipe soaked floors and fixtures inside the structure that will house the school's Center for Character and Leadership Development.

The academy confirmed the delay Tuesday, saying the trouble started when a pipe for the building's fire sprinkler system broke Nov. 30.

"The building was -- and still is -- under the control of the construction contractor," academy spokesman John Van Winkle said in an email. "Thus, recovery work and inspections were carried out by the construction contractor."

Polaris Hall, designed to be an iconic structure second only to the academy's Cadet Chapel, is topped by a 105-foot glass and steel tower angled to point at the North Star.

But the project has been troubled from the start -- contractors digging the foundation uncovered a car-sized boulder that took two weeks to jackhammer away. A year ago, quality checks revealed the tower was about an inch out of alignment, causing weeks of repair. Last fall, the academy planned a November ceremony to open the building. That was delayed, and then the pipe burst.

The academy said firefighters responded to an alarm triggered by the water leak and worked quickly to minimize damage. The cost associated with the leak hasn't been tallied.

The construction delays won't put a damper on the academy's National Character and Leadership Symposium in February. That two-day event features speakers including NFL quarterback Colt McCoy and astronaut Kevin Chilton.

Still, academy officials say they're happy with the 43,050-square-foot building, which includes a lecture hall, offices and "collaboration rooms" where cadets can gather to talk about the importance of leadership and integrity.

"The new Center for Character and Leadership Development will serve as the focal point for the total integration of character and leadership development into all aspects of the Academy cadet experience," Van Winkle said.

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