OLDSMAR — The city’s famous BMX track is staying closed. It’s unclear for how long.
But now, a report commissioned by the city is saying why.
Improper construction during the track’s $2.1 million renovation in 2015 led to a series of structural problems that must now be corrected, according to an engineering report performed by ECS Florida.
The report, which itself will cost Oldsmar an expected $70,000, focused on the mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls that support the renowned track. Since the renovation, the city has been monitoring movement in those walls that they worried could point to dangerous structural defects.
The ECS report confirmed the city’s worst fears: those defects exist, and they will require major reconstruction to be addressed.
The document blames the city’s contractor on the project, Tampa Bay Construction & Engineering, for many of the technical issues.
“It is our professional opinion that the majority of the (wall) distress is attributable to the contractor’s improper and poor construction practices and lack of contractor quality control,” the report read.
Ahmad Erchid, president of Tampa Bay Construction, said he had not had a chance to review the report. Still, he said, the construction job was supervised by officials from both the city and Pinellas County, and his firm performed the job to the specifications of the city.
“If they had issues, they should be reviewing their design drawings,” Erchid said.
In 2015, the city closed the track for months to perform a series of renovations, transforming the track that had existed for 13 years into a two-tier, elite-level attraction. The crown jewel of the renovations was the addition of a new 26-foot starter hill. With the changes, the city hoped to give an even more thrilling spectacle to lovers of the dynamic sport known as bicycle motocross, or BMX.
But in October 2015, three weeks before the track was set to reopen, Oldsmar fired Tampa Bay Construction amid allegations that it did not properly supervise the construction site and that it did not pay some of its subcontractors. (Two companies sued Tampa Bay Construction over these allegations in 2015 and 2016. The suits were each dismissed this year.)
In April of this year, City Manager Al Braithwaite closed the track so an engineering firm could assess the structural issues. This month, the city announced in a Facebook post that the track would remain closed for the foreseeable future.
“At this point, we are examining several structural options to renovate/replace the structure,” the post read. “Unfortunately, the conditions require that the track remained closed until the structure is renovated.”
It’s unclear how the city will proceed with the renovations. But the ECS report cautioned that “the only way to eliminate the risks associated with the existing (walls) is to remove and replace them.”
In an interview, Braithwaite said the city was considering legal action against the parties allegedly responsible for the track’s defects.
Meanwhile, USA BMX, which governs the sport’s biggest national competition, has already planned to move one of its competitions, Gator Nationals in February, from Oldsmar to Sarasota’s BMX course.
However the city chooses to proceed, local BMX riders will be forced to wait while the wheels of bureaucracy turn. On Tuesday, assistant city manager Felicia Donnelly said, the City Council will vote on a work order for an engineering firm to form “design criteria” for the newly replaced walls.
When asked to name a ballpark cost estimate for the potential re-renovations, Braithwaite cracked a rueful joke.
“Ballparks are not our specialty, and I guess BMX tracks aren’t either,” Braithwaite said. “It’s going to be expensive.”