Concrete Results

By David Huey | September 28, 2010

Driving into the fenced contractor's yard in the middle of May is like entering a small town. Dozens of trailers, construction equipment and piles of building materials fill the southern side of Iowa State University's Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. It's a mostly empty town, though: most of its "residents" are hard at work on the $19.5 million renovation project.

Up the hill, a crew is setting rebar and building the form for a retaining wall above the field. It will be poured within the next week. Like much concrete work, the site seems cluttered with lumber, tools, and materials, but it's a controlled mess. The crew works efficiently and safely — hardhats and protective glasses on.

The Weitz Company is the project construction manager for the project, coordinating about 16 prime contractors. They've been working on the stadium since the last ISU home in the fall of 2007. Of course, the pre-construction work started months before that. It appears that the renovation is on schedule for an August 1 completion day, plenty of time before the 2008 season home opener against South Dakota State on August 30.

Managing this controlled mayhem is Ben Bruns, Weitz project manager. He oversees about 80 to 100 worker employed by the various contractors, dozens of skid steers, backhoes and excavators. He's been with Weitz about seven years and is handling other projects while concentrating on Jack Trice. Before getting into the business, he was also an Iowa State construction engineering graduate and an all-star Cyclone football player (first team Big 12 and third team American center). He also does sideline reporting for the Cyclone Radio Network during ISU football games. He's right at home of the renovation is going on the west side of the stadium. Crews broke up concrete on the main deck to make room for 24 new suites. Two new restrooms and concession areas are being built on the west side along the widened concourse area. That involved building a retaining wall on the west berm. Even with the west concourse expended, equipment still has narrow spaces to navigate through.

"One of the greatest challenges is working close to existing structures," Bruns said. That's why there are so many compact machines on the site. "We put plywood on some of the surfaces to protect them, but it's still the operator's job to drive and work carefully in the confined space."

With new restrooms and concessions come the need for new water, waste and electric lines. Crews work around columns and walls digging trenches and laying pipe. Backfilling, that usually take a few minutes, takes nearly an hour as the compact excavator negotiates the tight quarters.

Work on the eastside is even closer. Equipment seems jammed together between the stadium supports and the renovated restrooms and concession stands. No one seems frustrated, though, perhaps because they've been working in these conditions for months.

The east side is also the scene of sand blasting. Whole sections of the bleachers have been encased in heavy canvas and the roar of blasting comes over the other sounds. The structural steel was being refurbished for the new season. Age and deterioration was another challenge for Bruns.

"The existing condition of the facility made our job harder," he remarked. "It was in sore need of this renovation after all the years and use it experienced."

Some of the renovation will, in a sense, pay for itself. Back on the west side, two new suite sections are being built over some of the upper bleachers (22 new suites at the concourse level for a total of 48 suites on the west side). They are finishing the enlarging of two existing suites. Then, all the suites will get operable windows. The new suites could bring in nearly $1 million in revenue.

The current renovation is the first part of a long range three-phase plan. More work will be done on the east side during phase two. That concourse will also be widened and the restrooms and concession stands will be renovated. The plan calls for the east side club section to be demolished and enlarged. That work could start after the 2008 season. The third phase will exchanged the south end zone hillside seats with a horseshoe structure that will support bleachers. There are also plans for replacing the main entrance, which is more than 30 years old.

Like most sites that involve a lot of concrete work, there is plenty of dirt, rock, gravel and sand piled up. Skid steers move around the entire project, delivering bucket loads on demand. They are kept busy — a crew waiting for aggregate is not getting work done.

With less than three months before the completion deadline, there still seems to be a lot of work that needs to be done. That's how it often looks at this stage of a project. Bruns was not concerned.

"We need to be done by August first, so the athletic department has time to get ready for the August 30 game," he noted. "By then, most of this site will be empty."

By then, this construction town will just be an empty field.