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Sportsplex delays might not affect opening date

Construction of the Shuffletown Sportsplex Park has fallen a few months behind schedule, but the park could still open in February.

Artist Pete Beeman of Portland, Ore., also has met delays in completing the park's public art piece.

He now expects the giant mechanical hand that sits atop a towering 17-foot base to be installed next spring rather than this month.

“As with all public projects, art and other, this one has seen many delays,” Beeman wrote in an e-mail from New York last week.

Plans for the first phase of Shuffletown Sportsplex, at 9500 Bellhaven Blvd., call for two baseball fields and a field between them, in the outfields, that can be used for soccer and football.

The Shuffletown Drag Strip remains at the site, although it hasn't been used for more than 10 years.

The one-eighth-mile asphalt strip opened in 1958 in a rural setting and closed in 1996 amid complaints about noise from residential communities that had emerged near the park site.

Construction on the sportsplex started in October 2007 and was scheduled to wrap up later this year, but permits for the project were incomplete until April. In one instance, contractors removed soil that was deemed unsuitable.

Then vandals hit the park in July. They used a forklift at the construction site to destroy a metal picnic shelter. Removing the damage and rebuilding could cost about $50,000, based on one estimate.

Beeman expects his $72,250 artwork to be erected near the baseball fields. The mechanical hand symbolically waves goodbye to Shuffletown's past ties to agriculture and drag racing while waving hello to its future, Beeman said.

Park visitors would turn a crank on the base to make the hand recoil and open.

The design drew mixed reactions at a November groundbreaking for the park. Some didn't understand the design's relationship to the park.

Beeman met with a group at the Arts & Science Council offices, explaining that the motion of the hand mimics moves for throwing or catching a ball. Ballgames are in the park's future.

Beeman's design survived another curveball more recently, when the Arts & Science Council called for a second structural engineer to analyze the design.

The first engineer evaluated the structural aspects of the base but not the hand that would be mounted on top, said Sarah Gay, the Arts & Science Council's associate vice president of public art.

“In the interest of public safety, we wanted to make certain that it is a safe structure,” Gay said.

Beeman hired a second engineer and made a few recommended modifications to the design. Now construction begins.

Beeman plans to work with a metal cutter and possibly welders and fabricators to build the piece. He'd like to do it all himself, but required annual certifications in many states make doing the work himself impractical.

“For me art is every bit computers and welding and cutting and engineering,” Beeman said.