Most construction jobs cause some sort of utility disruption, but the Plaza work reached a high mark. The Plaza’s utility disaster happened during the excavation/pile foundation phase, when Upchurch was contractor. Upchurch had hired as clearing and earthwork subcontractor one Sonny Wadsworth, who is a proverbial loose cannon. Sonny liked to sneak onto his jobs on Saturday when no one is around, to get away with shortcuts and non-conforming work. I believe he took Burt Boiler Works’ place as the PH&J nemesis and became our nightmare of the Eighties and Nineties.
So it was that subcontractor Wadsworth chose the Saturday morning of April 8, 1989, to clear the site of several large oaks that were in the right-of-way along Washington Street, and he further chose not cut down but instead to just push the trees over with a big machine. Unfortunately one of the trees had a huge root which extended under a South Central Bell main fiber optic cable. The tree went down, the root went up, and the giant communication cable snapped in two. Thus, on that fateful Saturday morning, SCB lost all long-distance service to Troy, Union Springs, Ozark, Ft. Rucker, Andalusia, Luverne, Dothan, Eufaula, and other points southeast. The site quickly became an exciting place as South Central forces discovered the break and moved in for a several-hour repair.
Two and a half months later, on June 20th, at SCB’s request, all the involved parties met at the site to discuss the SCB damage claim. SCB was represented by one Reggie Phillips who insisted that his company had lost $10 million in long distance tolls during the outage. He had a bill and asked to whom it should be presented. Ken Upchurch III blurted out, “Not me,” and kept his hands in his pockets. Sonny Wadsworth mumbled, “Not me.” David Atkins and I said no for PH&J. Phillips became agitated.
All of us were forced to defend Wadsworth in our own self interest, pointing out that this major cable installation was not marked, was not nearly as deep as it had been contracted to be, and was protected by only a flimsy plastic casing. The meeting ended at a standoff, but over a year later the SCB legal staff made one final attempt to collect at least the $25,000 that the repair cost and threatened legal action. All of the other parties responded with their lawyers at the ready, and no further action was taken.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)