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Another $140,000 is needed for Gunston Bubble project due to ‘unsuitable soil conditions’

Gunston Bubble, deflated (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The Arlington County Board is likely to vote this weekend on providing another $140,000 to fix the Gunston sports “bubble” due to issues related to the soil beneath the structure.

Renovations started last year on the Gunston Bubble, the covered, all-season county synthetic athletic field at Gunston Park behind the middle school of the same name. The two-decade-old bubble had reached “the end of its useful lifespan,” reads a county report, and needed to “be constantly monitored and inflated.”

During the summer, the bubble would sometimes get overly hot while, in the winter, snow would build up on top. Both situations were considered hazardous enough that the bubble would have to close on numerous occasions.

Work on the bubble began last year with the renovation project calling for a new frame-supported fabric structure that would make the bubble functional in any weather. Plus, ceiling fans, vents, and LED light fixtures will make it more “more energy efficient and reliable.”

The project was initially set to cost $867,000 and be completed in the second quarter of this year.

But issues arose almost immediately after work began in January, notes a County Board agenda report, due to the soil.

“Upon commencement of the work, the Contractor encountered unsuitable soil conditions that were not known at the time of design and need to be remediated, for proper installation of the building footings. Based on recommendations from the County third-party Geotechnical Contractor, Hillis Carnes, a series of additional undercuts are required to remove the unsuitable soil and bring in new material for the base foundation. This work is critical to ensure the structural stability of the new fabric structure.”

To complete the needed work, contractors IMEC Group, LLC are requesting an additional $140,000.

At the meeting this Saturday, the County Board is likely to vote on if it will allow for an amendment to the original contract that authorizes this extra money.

County officials that if the $140,000 is approved, the Gunston Bubble renovations should be completed later this year.

“We are excited to be updating the Gunston Bubble so that it will be able to support our community year-round with a strong frame structure to keep it open in the winter, and enhanced ventilation to make it more comfortable in the summer,” a county spokesperson tells ARLnow. “We noticed issues in the soil in January and are mitigating the issues. The work will cost us a bit more than expected and will delay the project.  We should have it all ready no later than early fall or sooner. When complete this will be a much better indoor experience than before.”

The bubble isn’t the only thing at Gunston Middle School that is set to being renovated. Earlier this month, the Arlington School Board approved $1.6 million in safety upgrades to the entrance of the school. The work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street. That project is expected to start in June and be complete by mid-August, right before the start of the new school year.

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