Mecklenburg County high schools may not be able to use Memorial Stadium for part of the 2010 season.
The 1930s-era facility, a popular site for community programs and athletic events, has been closed since summer as crews try to repair a tunnel under the stadium that caused bleachers to collapse.
The 24,000-seat stadium was to remain closed until at least the end of 2009. But county park officials, who own the stadium, now say they won't have a firm timetable on when the reopening until workers get a closer look at the damage.
Crews removed the damaged bleachers and dug up other concrete in recent months. Now, city stormwater officials are overseeing the repair of the tunnel, which carries water from a tributary of Little Sugar Creek.
Once the tunnel is fixed, the missing stadium seats must be replaced.
Construction on that final phase could start in April and finish in October once design work and contractor bids are finalized, said James Alsop, director of enterprise services for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department.
While it's possible the stadium could open sooner, Alsop said officials are hesitant to make any further predictions.
The project has stayed on schedule so far, though rain slowed work last week. But that was just a short setback and was built into the project's timeline, said Jennifer Krupowicz of the city's stormwater department.
It was earlier this spring, shortly after another period of rain, when officials first discovered the problems at Memorial. In late May, park staff noticed that about six or seven rows of seats in the horseshoe section of the stadium along Charlottetowne Avenue had collapsed.
A preliminary engineering report found "severe distress" in portions of the stone tunnel which had led to soil erosion, likely causing the bleacher damage.
Officials initially wanted to keep part of the stadium open during the repairs, but later decided to close the entire facility.
Some organizations that had planned to use the stadium this fall and winter had to find new locations for their events - most recently, when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had to relocate a big matchup between Independence and Butler high schools to the Patriots' campus. The Independence stadium holds about 4,200 fans, less than half of the average 10,000 plus who have gone to games between the rivals in past years.
It's too early to know whether any CMS games will be played at Memorial next year. Vicki Hamilton, the school district's athletics director, said CMS usually doesn't negotiate rentals with stadium officials until spring.
The repairs are costly. Park officials estimated the first phase of the project, the concrete dig, was to cost about $338,000, with the department paying for $100,000 of the cost from its repair fund. Krupowicz said the city believes it'll then cost a little over $400,000 to repair the underground tunnel; the cost will be covered using an existing maintenance contract.
Finally, it's unclear how much it'll cost to replace the bleachers. County commissioners last month picked Sutton-Kennerly and Associates to handle architectural and engineer work for the project.