Will the Last Person to Leave Safeco Please Shut the Roof?

Or at least write a $500,000 check?

Eight years after it opened, Safeco Field, the Mariners' $517 million playground, still seems to need an improved water drainage system, which could cost as much as $500,000. And someone needs to remember to close the roof when it rains. Someone did, fortunately, when the big storm and flooding hit Western Washington in early December. But about a month earlier, says M's spokesperson Rebecca Hale, the retractable roof was open when heavy rains poured forth, overwhelming drains and, in tandem with a rising water table in the tide flats on which the stadium is built, flooding dugouts, hallways, and the clubhouse. "The carpet got a little wet," Hale says, noting that such flooding has happened before and could happen again. "It was not major, just a matter of drying things out." But engineer and stadium critic Vince Koskela, after attending a recent meeting of the state Public Facilities District (PFD) board that oversees stadium operations, says it was more serious. "Four feet of water shot up in the clubhouse, and conduits carrying TV cables were full of water," says Koskela, head of a small stadium watchdog group, Taxpayers on Strike. The PFD board, he says, figured that an underground stream flowing from Beacon Hill contributed to the flooding. Water analysis also found saline, indicting stadium groundwater included Puget Sound seepage. "Knowing when to leave the retractable roof open or closed was an issue," says Koskela. PFD director Kevin Callan calls flooding a chronic problem. "The field drainage system is state of the art," he says, confirming the recent flooding. "But a heavy runoff can be a problem." Team and stadium officials are mulling over possible fixes. At the board meeting, says Koskela, discussion included adding more drainage and a pumping station at a cost of $250,000 to $500,000. The M's indicated they'd try to get the public to pick up the tab by tapping into a stadium fund that collects the proceeds of state ticket taxes, Koskela says. "The Mariners are also checking into the statute of limitations and could try to claim this expense as an original construction cost item [from 1999]," he says. Officials, he adds, additionally kicked around the idea of suing stadium architect NBBJ for faulty design. "A lawsuit sounds pretty remote," responds the PFD's Callan. "The Mariners need to hire an engineer to design a system that would collect water and direct it to the storm drains. The board approved going ahead to look at the cost and design. There's probably more than one alternative." Says the M's Hale: "We don't actually know what the situation is yet with the Beacon Hill runoff, and what we do next won't be clear until the water table and runoff situations are determined." In the meantime, someone be sure and hit that "Close Roof" button next time it rains.

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