Fireworks have barely stopped popping from the Fourth of July, but in Norman, OK, thoughts are already turning to football season.
Will the University of Oklahoma — commonly known as OU — have a winning season? More importantly, will its football stadium be ready when the team runs onto the field for its first home game on August 30?
One of these questions Larry Naifeh, OU’s executive associate athletic director, can answer. The stadium will definitely be completed.
Since December, the stadium has been undergoing massive renovations. Aging fiberglass-capped wood seating has been replaced with aluminum benches, the structure has been brought up to code and, most importantly, a new tier with approximately 8,000 new seats has been built.
J.D. Walker, project manager for general contractor Flintco, said the $50-million project has been standard except for its schedule. To complete the entire job in under 10 months, there’s been an average of 250 workers on site – and most recently, as many as 500.
And with the stadium in the midst of a university campus, space for parking and working has been tight as well.
The current phase of improvements, which is the second of three, primarily involves building an upper deck on the east side of the stadium. The new deck adds 27 suites, 2,300 club seats (along with a new club) and the preparations for adding 27 suites, to be done before the 104 football season. The old seating benches were replaced last season.
It’s really a large remodel, Walker explained. The contractor is remodeling the athletic department offices and applying new brick to stadium1s exterior.
Part of what was done in renovation was an architectural enhancement to the façade – to make it consistent with the architecture of the buildings on the campus, Naifeh said. The entire new east deck is clad in brick to mirror the architecture of academic buildings on campus.
Inside, decorative work is being done by Flintco’s subcontractors Masterpiece Painting and Prevision Casework, which has been completing wainscoting and crown moulding in the offices.
But it’s the new tier that will cause fans to catch their breath.
“You walk into it and it’s overwhelming how much larger it is,” said Walker. “You’re adding a whole other upper deck. Prior to this project, the east side just had lower bowl seating. Now you’ve got three levels of interior seating, and the club level on the upper deck.”
Numerous cranes are on site working on the new tier, most rented from local companies. Several Grove and American cranes, a JLG Ultraboom 1200SJB lift from United Rentals, scissor lifts, skidsteers, JCB 508C forklifts, loaders and graders —working on an area just north of the stadium — also are in use.
The equipment is the first the stadium has seen in about three decades.
“The initial seat replacement and structural repairs were necessary because they hadn’t been done in 30 years,” Naifeh said. “The seat additions and the new deck were done to meet fan demands. We had demand for tickets, we had demand for a club and suites, so that kind of fan demand kept us moving forward.”
The new seats bring to the stadium from a capacity of 75,000 to about 83,000. Naifeh, however, is not worried about filling the stadium, since the new area is already sold out, and season ticket sales are brisk, as always.
Surprisingly, the project money hasn’t come from the university budget. Instead, it’s being funded primarily by private donors – many of whom want a suite or club seating in exchange – and ticket sales.
A major donor has been the Gaylords, a prominent Oklahoma family. When completed, the stadium will bear a new name: the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Naifeh explained that using private funds instead of public when it can is “how our athletic department does all business,” he said. “Every part of our operation and capital projects are all done through revenue generating through athletics — from private gifts and tickets. “
Stadium renovations don’t end in August, though. A third phase is planned to renovate the north and west sides of the facility – improvements to the restrooms, concession stands and press boxes are in the works.
Walker said the job was a good fit for Flintco.
“It’s just a large project for the Oklahoma area. It’s a nice project to have your name attached to,” he admitted. “It’s in the limelight of all Oklahomans in this area. It’s something that my company can tackle.”