CINCINNATI (AP) Ohio's Hamilton County has adopted a do-it-yourself approach to fix stadium seats in the Great American Ball Park that are unexpectedly falling apart.
Facing repair costs as high as $5 million, the county hired a local firm to design new seat molds, found a plastics company to make the backs and bottoms and is paying ex-jail inmates and others about $10 an hour to install them in the Cincinnati Reds' stadium.
The cost to taxpayers will be about $1.3 million, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Tuesday (http://cin.ci/16pnh69 ). The county's lease with the team requires it to maintain the seats.
About 17,000 of the new seats already are in place, and county officials say they're stronger, better looking, more durable and less expensive than the originals.
''We think we have not only a better product, it meets all specifications,'' Joe Feldkamp, who oversees the stadium for the county, told the paper. ''We're in the seat business now.''
Great American's seats began to fail as early as 2008, just five years after the stadium opened, and far earlier than their expected life span of more than 20 years, Feldkamp said.
Cracks formed on the plastic backs and bottoms of the bright red seats, and some split open into wider gashes.
The seats' manufacturer, Hussey Seating Co. in Maine, agreed to replace about 1,000 seats, Feldkamp said.
The company makes seats for stadiums and arenas across the country and typically does not have a problem with failures like those described at Great American, said spokesman Chris Robinson. ''It's a pretty durable product that lasts a long time.''
County officials say that wasn't the case here, though they don't know why. Hussey has installed seats in other cold-weather stadiums and the company said Cincinnati's seats are no different.
Concerned about costly repair quotes the county received, Feldkamp found Borke Mold Specialists Inc. in West Chester online. Borke, whose company usually makes molds for things like airplane food trays, told Feldkamp it could ''reverse-engineer'' the molds, essentially making molds from existing seats instead of the other way around.
The county then hired Pinnacle Plastic Products in Bowling Green to pour hot plastic into the molds.
To install the repaired seats, the county turned to the Hamilton County Re-entry Program, which helps former inmates and others adapt to the working world.
''It gives us an opportunity to be proud of something,'' said participant Alonzo Franklin, who started out installing seats and is now a supervisor. ''It makes you feel good that you get to be part of something so big.''
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com