In a state where college football is king, Florida International University (FIU) has taken the first steps toward royalty with construction of a new on-campus football stadium.
On May 25, FIU broke ground on phase one of a four-phase project, which includes dismantling the south stands, bringing the stadium’s capacity to 18,000, 1,400 club seats, a 6,500 sq.-ft. Panther Club, an upper concourse and 19 suites. Seating will include chairback seats and bench seating.
“It’s a great day to be a Golden Panther,” FIU Athletic Director Pete Garcia said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This is an exciting day and there will be only one day more exciting than this, when we kick off the season playing the University of South Florida in September 2008 in our brand new stadium. This will be the crown jewel of FIU’s athletic department.”
When the stadium is completed, it will be the only Division I on-campus football stadium south of Orlando.
Additional phases of construction will bring the stadium’s seating capacity to approximately 45,000. The second phase of the project includes a 100,000 sq. ft. (9,300 sq m) student center, which will house undergraduate advising, admissions, financial aid and a welcome center. This phase of the project, at a cost of approximately $24 million, is expected to be completed in 2011.
In January, the Florida Board of Governors approved a resolution allowing FIU to finance the stadium. FIU will be able to issue bonds to finance the estimated $31 million first phase of the project.
“We are committed to building a first-class university and this facility will become an integral part of that institution,” said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. “It will impact not only our student athletes and our fans but every single student and many alumni who will gather there for many years to come.”
Odebrecht Construction Inc., an international construction and engineering firm, is the contractor for the project. Founded in Brazil more than 60 years ago, the company established its U.S. headquarters in 1990 in Coral Gables. Odebrecht has worked on several other South Florida projects, including terminal expansions at Miami International Airport, the American Airlines Arena and the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne Resort & Spa.
“We’re currently doing phase one of four phases,” said Rudy Armenta, senior project manager of Odebrecht. “It’s a project that ultimately will give the university a 45,000 seat football stadium. It’s also being designed for multipurpose — concerts, possibly soccer in the future. It’s going to be a really, really nice facility.”
Currently, Armenta said, they are finalizing the stadium design; the contract is design/build, so they are designing as they go.
The project is being designed in anticipation of future growth.
“One of the things we were asked to do was make the stadium expandable,” Armenta said. “What we’ve been able to do is show them how the stadium could grow at the rate the university’s collegiate programs grew.”
Armenta said subcontractors are just starting the underground civil work, including utilities, storm drainage and water and sewer. The utility work also is being designed to accommodate future growth.
“Subcontractors are beginning to mobilize,” Armenta said. “I have three subcontractors, Fisk Electric, Southern Bleacher and M.J. Engineering, the civil contractor, and they’re doing most of the work now.”
Armenta said they are using three excavators, loaders and a compact roller at this point. In the coming weeks, at least two cranes and pile driving equipment will be positioned to erect the structure for the stadium.”
Glenn McNatt, sales representative of Southern Bleacher, said his company is responsible for the engineering, design, fabrication and installation of the galvanized steel and aluminum seating and the concrete footings.
“It’s a design/build team and our part of the team is the grandstands and the structure for all the seating, which includes some suite structures and an concrete, elevated concourse that will eventually circle the entire stadium.”
In late July, Southern Bleacher started work on the foundation for the seats.
“The foundation work is mainly backhoes and shallow spread footings because of the high water tables,” McNatt said. “Once the foundations are installed, the steel structure is pretty lightweight so we’ll use a lot of forklifts, extended booms and man lifts.”
Based in Graham, Texas, Southern Bleacher is leasing most of its equipment for the stadium job from United Rentals and Hertz.
“We work in that part of the country quite often, so it’s nothing we’re not familiar with,” McNatt said. “Of course, the 150 mile per hour wind load for hurricanes is unique. We just have to use bigger members, bigger footing to keep it from blowing away when it’s empty.”
While McNatt calls the job a “pretty straightforward bleacher project,” it’s not without its challenges.
“The main challenge on a project this size is getting it done in a timely manner,” McNatt said. “Getting the proper fabrication delivered to the site in the proper order so you can put it all together in a timely fashion.
“Timing is everything.”
Timing also is crucial for Armenta.
“Seventeen months to design and build is obviously a challenge,” Armenta said. “It’s a lot to produce in a very little time. One of the things that’s unique here is for this season the team has to play in another stadium, which is causing them to incur some costs. Next year they’re looking to play here and they need to play here to avoid incurring these costs.”
Armenta, who started with Odebrecht 12 years ago as an intern, said the close quarters on the 8-acre (3.2 ha) site is another challenge he’s addressing daily.
“I don’t have a whole lot of space,” said Armenta, who likens himself to an orchestra conductor. “It is a constrained area. It’s a challenge keeping people moving so they don’t step on each other’s toes.”
Though early in construction, Armenta said everything is looking good and on schedule and there should be no problem meeting the 2008 deadline.
“The university really did well in defining the program and what they wanted,” Armenta said. “It’s very exciting to be on a project like this and sit on the other side of the table from the client. They’re extremely motivated and the university is just going bananas over a brand new football stadium.”
FIU Trustee and Athletic Committee chair Al Dotson Sr. is one of those going bananas.
“I’m excited about what this stadium project means to the future of our football program and the entire FIU community,” Dotson said. “We have more than 110,000 alumni and 38,000 students. We can fill this stadium without blinking an eye.”
Once the site of an airport, Armenta said they haven’t uncovered any surprises during the underground work — at least so far.
“No surprises,” Armenta said. “No dead airplanes or unforeseen conditions.”
When the utility work is complete, Armenta said excess dirt from the excavation will be used to raise the site a couple of feet. Then construction on the stadium structure will begin later this year or in early 2008.
They’ll use approximately 300 cu. yds. (229 cu m) of concrete for the stadium — it will be mostly steel. At the job’s peak, Armenta said there will be approximately 200 workers on site, including subcontractors. They’ll be working a 10-hour daytime shift.
As senior project manager, Armenta is responsible for every aspect of the project, which means spending a lot of time in meetings.
“A lot of meetings,” Armenta said. “Especially with design/build, it’s important to make sure the communication is seamless between the field and the office. We work at that very hard.”
Armenta has a staff of six helping make sure everything runs smoothly.
“Everything is good,” Armenta said. “We’re very fortunate to have a very good relationship with the university. What we hear is they’re very happy with the service we’ve provided to them and we really like working with them. We have a philosophy of we like to dream the client’s dream.
“And this is a good dream.”
Armenta said there’s a possibility FIU and Odebrecht will team again for a future project.
“They’re talking about building a school of medicine in the near future,” Armenta said. “That’s a dream we’d like to dream with them as well.” CEG