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Sverdlovsk's Messe Stuttgart is going up at the builders' own risk

Sverdlovsk's Messe Stuttgart is going up at the builders' own risk

31.01.2011 — Analysis

The Ekaterinburg-Expo center in the Sverdlovsk region is being built at a breakneck pace. The first stake was hammered in last fall at the construction site, and the regional government is already planning to hold the Second International Ural Exhibition and Forum of Industry and Innovation INNOPROM here in July of 2011. As this columnist for "RusBusinessNews" has explained, the first phase of the construction work on the complex was done in a rush - the work is moving along four times faster than normal. Experts claim that visitors to the exhibition might end up having to pay the price of this excessive haste - Russian builders are not known for their attention to detail and often deviate from established operating procedures. The January collapse of a roof at a St. Petersburg superstore is evidence that the country's system of building inspections is not functioning as it should.

The decision was made to build a 200,000-square-meter exhibition center last summer, right after the first INNOPROM exhibit ended. The construction project was commissioned by Middle Ural Development Corporation, OJSC which was created by the government of the Sverdlovsk region to implement major investment projects in the region. The exhibition center is one of those projects. Government officials had dreams of holding the International Expo-2020 in Ekaterinburg, and so decided to build something similar to the Messe Stuttgart in Germany. In addition to the exhibition facilities, there are plans to construct a multifunction conference center with a 3,500-seat auditorium. The first construction phase is supposed to deliver a 150,000-square-meter complex by this spring, at a cost of 2.5 billion rubles.

Industry professionals admit that the customer has set very difficult deadlines - the design planning of the first phase alone takes two years. Nevertheless, in October the builders were already at the site of the future complex. SK Rusgrad accepted the task of bringing these plans to fruition. Mikhail Absalyamov, the general director of the construction company, told the media in January that it was impossible to build the facility in six months, thus entangling himself in arguments with the designers and clients. The director of the contracting company actually admitted that the design for phase one is not ready and that the funding is not arriving on a regular basis, but they're going full steam ahead with the construction, despite the Siberian frosts. The manager has accepted full responsibility and is erecting the complex at his own risk, guided by his own vision and experience.

The director of the company designing the Ekaterinburg-Expo spoke to "RusBusinessNews" on condition of anonymity and said that the facility is being erected on the fly, since they were given only a third of the time they needed to complete it. As a result, there are discrepancies that crop up and must be resolved during the construction process. At the contractor's request, the documentation is being amended during the course of the project, since the complex is being built four times faster than normal. It is taking an all-out effort on the part of the construction crew to work at this speed. They are on the job fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Even the severe frosts the Urals experienced in the second half of January did not slow their schedule. The pouring of concrete was halted only twice and literally for just half a day. The designer claims that the cold weather did not affect the quality of the work, because the liquid concrete was heated.

Nikolai Suprun, the director of the facility design department for civil-engineering projects at Uralgipromez OJSC, claims that it is permissible to pour concrete at a temperature of minus 25 degrees if the concrete solution is warmed up. But it is better to halt the work and draw up a statement explaining the delay, since heating the concrete substantially increases the cost. In addition, the electronic components of the imported pumps and cranes used on all modern construction sites start to malfunction at minus 25 degrees. Equipment that is sensitive to cold should not be used in borderline situations such as when the electronics are working but the air temperature is quite low - this greatly increases the probability that the concrete will not be poured evenly.

Nikolai Suprun thinks that it is possible to build a 150,000-square-meter facility in six months, but that Rusgrad is taking a big risk by constructing "on the fly". There could be serious problems afterwards with the Office of State Inspection, which must approve any changes to the documentation. It's possible that Mikhail Absalyamov is planning to submit the facility to the commission with the help of the Sverdlovsk regional government, which has put the builders in an impossible position. But Nikolai Suprun claims that in any case this is not an intelligent way to work. Rush deadlines do not mean that everything has to be done at the builders' convenience, drawing up the documentation after the fact.

Buildings frequently collapse in Russia. The last such incident occurred in January of 2011, when the roof of a superstore in St. Petersburg collapsed on shoppers. It can not be ruled out that those builders had also decided to work fast and cheap, and that the regulatory agencies either overlooked the problems or had poor communication with the contractor. It could also have been the fault of the designers, who did the project in a rush, just like in Ekaterinburg, and then reworked their plans "on the back of an envelope" while the construction was in progress.

Sergei Filippov, the director of Middle Ural Development Corporation, OJSC, told this columnist for "RusBusinessNews" that everything is fine at the Ekaterinburg-Expo construction site. The designers are dragging their feet, but time running out, and so the contractor is having to work at this own risk. But all the regulatory agencies are exercising strict control over the work there, and the builders are meeting all the regulatory requirements. He is certain that the first phase of the complex will be ready on time, i.e., by July of 2011.

Participants in the INNOPROM-2011 international exhibition have no choice but to take Sergei Filippov at his word. But it wouldn't hurt them to be careful - on the same day as the roof collapse at the St. Petersburg superstore, the Sverdlovsk Office of State Construction Supervision reported that in 2010, 17,500 violations were found on construction sites. The courts have demanded 20 million rubles in fines from the owners of the buildings. The most common infractions were failure to comply with established operating procedures or technical regulations, as well as inadequate oversight of the construction work.

Vladimir Terletsky

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