By Mason Nichols
With the seconds ticking away, a quiet anticipation begins to build. Just 15 minutes ago, the team you’d ardently followed all season held a surefire ticket into the playoffs. But after a roaring comeback by the opposition, a deficit has dampened your spirits. As doubt begins to creep in, your team’s star player suddenly comes through. A deafening roar is all you need to hear. The game has been won. Hope has been restored.
Scenes like this develop every day at sports stadiums and arenas across the world. The drama is real, and while fans may experience an array of emotions ranging from downtrodden to jubilant, one constant is the experience a well-designed and well-built stadium provides. One of the building materials that take unique designs from concept to reality is precast concrete.
A Gold Standard: Levi’s Stadium
Precaster: Clark Pacific
Products: Treads, Risers, Vomitory Walls
General Contractor: Turner/Devcon JV
Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Each year, the Super Bowl ranks among the most-viewed television programs in the U.S. In 2014, Super Bowl XLVIII set the all-time record for the most-watched television event in U.S. history, drawing more than 111 million viewers (1). To capitalize on the excitement the Super Bowl offers, NFL team owners are in constant competition for a chance to host the big game.
Recognizing an opportunity to secure Super Bowl 50, owners of the San Francisco 49ers were in a need of a building material for Levi’s Stadium that could meet a tight project timeline. Jack Hill, project executive for the 49ers, said precast concrete was essential for keeping the work on schedule.
“One advantage of using precast involved the timing,” he said. “We could fabricate the seating treads and risers off site so that when the steel frame was put up, we had the ability to complete the frame. That saved us considerable time versus cast-in-place.”
The use of precast also helped the many different trade workers operating on site function efficiently as a unit, preventing potential project hiccups. Thomas Ketron, marketing director for precast manufacturer Clark Pacific, noted the importance of synergy between the groups.
“Clark Pacific worked closely with the general contractor to really create this dance that was super-efficient in the constructability,” he said. “That really helped nail the schedule.”
Matt Engelking, project manager for Clark Pacific, agreed.
“There was a lot of coordination just with the precast alone,” he said. “Even with on-site materials, if this would have been a cast-in-place structure, you’d have a lot of formwork. Precast really was the only solution.”
Clark Pacific’s products and close proximity to the job site helped Levi’s Stadium become the first LEED Gold certified stadium in the NFL. The result is an aesthetically pleasing, durable solution which will host a variety of sporting events in the Bay Area for many decades.
A Multi-Faceted Facility: Amway Center
Precaster: Gate Precast Co.
Products: Insulated Wall Panels, Flat Slabs, Columns, Beams, Risers
General Contractor: Turner/Hunt JV
Engineer: Walter P Moore
The Amway Center’s iconic spire is hard to miss towering over the intersection of Interstate 4 and State Road 408 in Orlando, Florida. The arena’s façade, constructed of 256 pieces of 10-in. insulated precast concrete panels, is just as captivating. According to Randy Dvorak, senior principal for stadium architect Populous, architectural precast concrete’s durability played a significant role in its selection for the project.
“Precast will probably outlast the design desirability of the building,” he said. “We say a building will provide at least a 50-year life. If the precast is maintained – cleaned and sealed when necessary – we think it will outlast that.”
Bruce Bartscher, senior project manager for Gate Precast Co. in Kissimmee, Florida, stressed architectural precast’s rapid erection as another important factor.
“For a lot of projects, the speed in which you can start build-out and begin your interior work or finishes is important,” he said. “Once we finished the installation process of making all the connections, we were able to quickly move forward.”
Many different events are held inside the Amway Center. The building serves as the permanent home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, but also hosts arena football, minor league hockey, concerts and more. All events are made possible by the use of structural precast concrete products including flat slabs and risers.
For Tom Newton, vice president of operations for Gate’s Jacksonville, Florida, location, using structural precast components meant saving time and money.
“With regards to schedule, if they had to form and pour all of those risers, they would have been out there forever,” he said. “And by going with prestressed, we were able to have longer spans, which resulted in less column and beam framing and a lower construction cost.”
Newton sees the Amway Center as a fitting complement to the rest of the city skyline. “It was fun to work on,” he said. “The city of Orlando has an awesome coliseum there.”
A Well-Coordinated Effort: PPL Center
Precaster: Bethlehem Precast Inc.
Products: Flat Slabs, Rakers, Walls and Beams
General Contractor: Alvin H. Butz Jr.
Architect: Sink Combs Dethlefs
Engineer: Martin/Martin Inc.
More than a decade ago, initial discussions to bring a minor league hockey team to Allentown, Pennsylvania, began. Although the idea was championed by then Mayor Bill Heydt, the city was never able to secure the funding necessary to jumpstart the project, leaving plans in limbo. But in 2009, the tide finally turned after a state senator helped create the Neighborhood Improvement Zone tax district, which would eventually be used to help pay for the arena (2).
Enter precast concrete, which enabled the highly anticipated PPL Center to meet the demands of a tight schedule while providing a top-notch experience for fans.
“Precast concrete is always the best option because we are able to prestress and post-tension items, which allows for longer spans,” said Tom Engelman, president of Bethlehem Precast Inc. in Pennsylvania. “This reduces the amount of superstructure and provides better views in the stadium.”
The company, which manufactured approximately 1,000 pieces of structural precast for the arena, provided a slew of products, including bleacher elements, walls and 48,000-lb rakers. While producing the pieces required for the project was straightforward, Engelman noted one of the biggest challenges was coordinating with the many other trades involved.
“There were probably 6-8 months of work with the other trades, including the steel guys, the railing guys and the seating guys,” he said. “We had to ensure that our elements could take the loading and structural necessities of their parts of the contract.”
Thankfully, precast concrete works well in conjunction with other products, allowing for such coordination efforts to run smoothly. “You put your pieces up, and within a day or two of finishing any welding and other things that need to be done, the precast’s ready,” Engelman said. “It can be used by other trades without any issues.”
Though originally conceived as a hockey arena, the PPL Center has already hosted concerts, a professional bull riding competition and more since first opening to the public in September 2014.
A Complete Precast Solution: First Tennessee Park
Precaster: Sherman-Dixie Concrete Industries Inc.
Products: Reinforced Concrete Pipe, Curb Inlets, Vaults, Manholes
General Contractor: Sunrise Contracting
Architect: Populous/Hastings Architecture Associates
Engineer: Walter P Moore
The smell of fresh popcorn. The sight of a lush, green playing surface. The sound of a bat sending a ball deep into the air and over the right field wall. Attending a baseball game floods the senses with the myriad sights and sounds that make America’s pastime such a unique experience. But what fans don’t typically see are the underground infrastructure systems that make each game possible. That’s where precast concrete comes into play.
Seeking a move from their original stadium built in 1978, the Nashville Sounds, a minor league affiliate of the MLB’s Oakland Athletics, gained approval for the construction of First Tennessee Park. Before the components making up the stadium seating could be placed, many underground pieces, including reinforced concrete pipe, curb inlets and vaults had to be installed.
Mike Kusch, director of technical marketing for project precaster Sherman-Dixie Concrete Industries Inc., said precast concrete was chosen for the infrastructure portion of the work due to its strength and extended service life.
“Precast concrete is a low-maintenance, highly durable, bury-it-and-forget-it type of product that will last a minimum of 100 years,” he said. “Around a stadium site, pipe is something you want to put in only one time and never have to go back.”
Although not manufactured by Sherman-Dixie, the stadium will also include precast products in the seating areas. According to Justin Barton, P.E., S.E. and principal for Walter P Moore, using precast for these components is crucial to meeting project deadlines.
“We had a very aggressive design and construction schedule,” he said. “I think the precast concrete will help in terms of being able to make the project ready for opening day.”
Beyond speed of erection, Barton also said using precast helps boost the quality of installation. “By manufacturing the precast in a plant, you’re able to have tighter tolerances that you might not get if the product was just cast in the field,” Barton said.
The Sounds will play their first game at the new facility when the season begins in mid-April 2015.
A Sizeable Upgrade: Kyle Field
Precaster: Heldenfels Enterprises Inc.
Products: Columns, Beams, Rakers, Risers, Vomitory Walls, Stairs
General Contractor: Manhattan/Vaughn JV
Engineer: Walter P Moore
Seats: 82,500 (Before Renovations), 102,500 (After Renovations)
Over the past several years, the college football program at Texas A&M University has exploded in popularity. In a 2013 poll, the Aggies supplanted the University of Texas as the football program fans most identify with in the state (3). Now, thanks to a renovation project currently underway, Kyle Field will become the stadium with the largest seating capacity in the entire Southeastern Conference when work is completed later this year (4).
According to Gil Heldenfels, vice president and general manager of the building systems division at Heldenfels Enterprises Inc., the project is taking place between the team’s football seasons, which run from August to December each year. Due to the limited time available for construction teams to work, the renovation schedule is very aggressive.
“The university decided to go with a precast and steel structure for speed,” he said. “The lower deck – all the way around – is going to be all precast, including columns, beams, raker beams, risers, vomitory walls and stairs.”
Heldenfels added that the first phase, which was completed before the start of the 2014 season, contained more than 1,500 precast concrete pieces. On-site teams demoed the lower east side stands and rebuilt them. The south end of the stadium was also enclosed by adding a new seating complex with precast components in the area. In phase two, Heldenfels Enterprises will provide an additional 773 pieces of precast. Teams will demo the west side and rebuild it, completely closing in the stadium.
In addition to the major structural work, another producer – Enterprise Precast Concrete – will manufacture architectural cladding that will wrap around the exterior of the stadium. Heldenfels believes the work will give Kyle Field a bold new look.
“For the most part, before it was just an exposed structure with some metal panels,” he said. “The precast is going to really dress up the stadium.”
Most valuable precast
With modern-day stadiums and arenas growing ever-larger and project schedules continuing to tighten, engineers and architects are in need of a construction material that is just as clutch as a last-second winning play. Precast concrete’s strength, durability and speed have consistently come through, enabling the completion of some the world’s most awe-inspiring sports complexes.
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.
Sidebar – Core Components
Walls, beams, risers and exterior panels are integral in the construction of sports arenas. However, it is the underlying infrastructure pieces, including reinforced concrete pipe, vaults and more that lay the foundation for a stadium’s success. Precast concrete products can be specified for every step in the construction process, marrying underground and above-ground elements in the creation of stadiums that are as visually appealing as they are functional.