Philadelphia Eagles Get Set to Spread Their Wings in New NovaCare Complex

Tue May 21, 2002 - Northeast Edition
Darryl Seland

If the Philadelphia Eagles dispatch their opponents as quickly and efficiently as their stadium is being built, fans will have much to celebrate.

Since 1933, the Eagles have played their games in the Baker Bowl, Temple Stadium, Municipal Stadium, Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium, Forbes Field and Franklin Field. Since 1971, the Eagles and the Phillies have shared Veterans Stadium. For many years “the Vet” has been considered by many to be the worst venue in the country, and both teams were said to be tired of playing there.

Demolition of the T Warehouse site adjacent to Veterans Stadium began in April 2001. Construction of the new open-air, grass-field NovaCare Complex was marked by a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2001.

After purchasing the Eagles in 1994, owner Jeffrey Lurie said that a new, state-of-the-art stadium would be a major factor in bringing a championship team to Philadelphia.

“I have said so many times, winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal of this organization. Stadiums and training facilities, however, are a vital element in the success and stability of sports franchises on both a present and long-term basis,” said Lurie.

“ ’State-of-the-art’ ” is an often overused phrase these days, but the Eagles Stadium is certainly as grand as any NFL stadium built to this point and grander than most,” said Richard West, vice president, project director of Turner Keating McKissack.

West has been involved exclusively with sports facilities for the past 10 years and the Eagles’ Stadium is the second time he has constructed an NFL stadium. “I can assure you that major league stadiums are very unique among construction projects and possibly the most challenging among commercial projects,” said West.

NBBJ Sports and Entertainment of Marina Del Ray, CA, designed the new stadium with three open-plaza corners to provide views of the city from inside the stadium. The exterior will have a pair of wing-like coverings over the upper stands to protect fans from bad weather and focus stadium noise back toward the field.

The stadium will have the same capacity as the Vet, approximately 66,000. However, that is one of the few things the two buildings have in common. The width of the concourse will be double that of the Vet, ranging from 60 to 90 ft. (18.3 to 27.4 m). The seats in the new stadium will be 60 ft. from the field, with nearly two-thirds of the seats located along the sidelines. These sideline seats will be part of two three-tier grandstands located on both sides of the field. Two tier sections of seating are planned at the endzones.

By comparison, the sideline seats at the Vet — a bowl shaped, multi-purpose structure built in 1971 — make up only one-third of the seating.

There are five main levels to the stadium: a lower bowl, a lower suite level, a club level, an upper suite level and an upper seating deck. Sixty percent of the seats will be in the lower bowl, another improvement over the Vet, where only 40 percent of the seats are in the lower deck — one of the worst percentages in the NFL.

Other features of the stadium include two club atriums, which are enclosed areas with upscale concessions, seating areas and bars.

Because of the demolition and construction taking place in Philadelphia’s sports complex, the number of available parking spaces in the entire complex area will increase from 16,000 to approximately 22,000.

The main concourse is 23 ft. (7 m) from ground level and circles the entire stadium. It serves as the roof to the service level. West said, for the concourse, “We chose poured-in-place concrete over structural steel or pre-cast concrete … steel takes time to get to the project, as does pre-cast concrete. A poured in place deck at the main concourse also gives us an earlier and more effective weather protection down in the Service Level for work being done there.

“On this element of the project we were able to start almost three months earlier using concrete over steel,” added West.

The stadium will include 162 suites, located between the lower bowl and the club seating sections, as well as between the club seating section and the upper bowl. All of the suites will feature retractable glass windows, allowing occupants to see the game in a climate-controlled environment or enjoy the open-air experience. Nine thousand club seats also will be available for lease, a departure from the design of the Vet.

The original plan was to have 117 luxury suites — seven for team and city use, and 110 for lease. According to Ron Howard, director of marketing and communications of the Eagles, the 110 suites were leased so quickly that the number was increased to 162. The original design was made flexible for just such a reason.

Large, exterior video screens will greet fans as they approach the stadium through a 100,000-sq.-ft. (9,290 sq m) plaza. The exterior plaza is described as significantly larger than Eutaw Street at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD, or the plaza area at Turner Field in Atlanta, GA.

The plaza, located at the northeast, northwest, and southeast areas outside the stadium, provides an area for pre- and post-game activities, and a 15 by 20 ft., high-definition video board/sound system to watch the broadcast of early-afternoon games or special productions.

Inside the stadium there will be two liquid-crystal display video boards measuring 27 by 96 ft., the equivalent of four Phanavision screens. These HDTV, flat-screens will span almost the entire width of the field between the upper and lower seating areas in both the north and south end zones. The sound reinforcement system will cover the seating bowl, reduce echoing, and allow for section-specific messaging during games and emergencies. The system consists of hundreds of small speakers located throughout the stadium.

The Vet has only one early 1980s model 31- by 42-ft. video display board located in the upper deck.

“Scoreboards are a key item to purchase. Though the equipment is often readily available, this, too, needs to be carefully coordinated with the other construction activities. Much of this work needs to be lifted into place by cranes inside the stadium,” said West. “In the later summer of ’02 cranes will no longer be allowed in the playing field area, so this major equipment needs to be put into place earlier than one might expect.” Four Manitowoc 2250 cranes are being used on the project.

According to West, one characteristic of the construction process of all football stadiums is that the lower bowl structure must be left out until the superstructure is complete. That is because the huge cranes that erect the superstructure and video systems must have close access in order to reach the upper areas. For that reason the lower bowl will be all pre-cast construction, including the columns and raker beams, so that we will have maximum speed to erect the lower bowl when we are ready.

To date, 59,000 cu. yd. (45,109 cu m) of concrete, 7,200 tons (6,480 t) of reinforcing steel and 15,500 tons (13,950 t) of structural steel have been used; and approximately 4,000 pieces of pre-cast concrete will be placed. On May 30, three pile drivers began the task of driving into the ground the 3,600 piles that help form the foundation of the stadium.

By February 2002, both the east and west grandstands were nearly complete, due in part to the mild winter, which has helped the construction crews make big strides on the project. “We are full speed ahead,” said Joe Banner, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Eagles. “Things are going very well and we are on track for late 2003, that’s our opening goal.”

West remarked, “With over 4,000 construction workers involved in the development of the stadium, overcoming challenges and opportunities is key to managing a construction project of this magnitude … and having it come in on time and on budget. It is very crucial to increase efficiency through the use of technology,” The stadium is an around-the-clock project and currently on target for its completion date.

Another rule of thumb for NFL football stadium construction, according to West, is that you need to top out one year from substantial completion. That is August 2002 for this project. “By top out I mean all of the steel and pre-cast up to the top seat. It does not include the roof, such as in our case. Right now our schedule has us accomplishing that by July 1,” said West.

The construction plan for the stadium sets up multiple projects within a project. The two grandstand structures will be built simultaneously, with the East phased approximately three weeks behind the West. There also is a directional flow to the project. Work starts at the North edge of the East and West grandstands and flows South.

“As one level nears the South end of the stadium the next level is progressing midway down the stadium, while the next level is under way at the North end,” said West. “This spreads out the work force and gives a large amount of area where construction can be going on. The goal is that there will be some construction activity in every single area of the stadium.”

All of this planning is very important for the last part of construction on the stadium — the playing field. The playing field will be built in the late fall and early winter so that the grass can be laid in April 2003.

The first step to building the playing field is excavating approximately 7 ft. (2.1 m) of the existing soil, installing the deep storm drainage structures and placing approximately 3.5 ft. (1.1 m) of compacted structural fill.

The sub-grade will be compacted and laser graded to the exact contour of the finished surface. Trenching machines then will excavate for the drainage pipe. Bucket loaders remove dirt from the trencher chute and haul it off. After the pipe is put in, 3 in. (7.6 cm) of drainage stone is laid, followed by the installation of sod.

The sod for the Eagles stadium was planted in October 2001. “The playing field sod needs to grow 18 months to two years before being harvested,” said West. “Coordinating this with other construction activities is an important issue.”

Additionally, the Eagles’ field will have a heating system, which will take three months to install.

“Here the grass needs to be planted no later than April 1 because the cool weather grasses develop and grow their root system best in the cool spring weather,” said West. “This puts more pressure on us to put the field in before the hard winter hits in October, November and January so we are sure we can plant grass on April 1.”

The Eagles are contributing an unprecedented $300 million-plus to the construction of the stadium, including a reported $180-million loan. “The city is paying for the land — and future operating costs — and the state and the Eagles are paying for the stadium,” said Banner.

The team also is selling Stadium Builder Licenses (SBL) ranging from $1,530 to $3,100. SBLs are one-time payments that will be used to help fund stadium construction costs. Holders of SBLs will have the right to purchase season tickets to Eagles home games for specified seats for as long as the Eagles play in the new stadium.

The Eagles will sell 29,000 Stadium Builder Licenses, less than half of the stadium’s capacity.

“In our negotiations with the city we mutually agreed and in our lease it says we will not sell more than 29,000 seats [as SBLs]. We are legally bound as well as philosophically bound,” said Banner.

“This is not something that is coming into the Eagles or in any way enriching the team or the owner, or support our player payroll or anything like that,” added Banner.

According to Banner, the SBL program could generate between $50 and $60 million.

NBBJ is the world’s third largest architectural practice and the recipient of more than 300 national and international design awards. Today, with offices in Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco; Seattle; Columbus, OH; and Raleigh, NC, its portfolio of major sports arenas include Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati; Staples Center in Los Angeles; Safeco Field in Seattle, WA; and 49ers Stadium in San Francisco, CA.

Philadelphia’s own Turner Construction Company was founded in 1902 by Henry C. Turner. Turner is responsible for a number of high-rises on Market St. in downtown Philadelphia.

Established in 1976, the Keating Building Corporation delivers full-service construction management, general contracting, design/build and program management services to a wide array of clients.

McKissack & McKissack was started in 1905 in Nashville, TN, making it one of the oldest minority-owned architectural/engineering firms in the country. McKissack & McKissack’s projects include the Washington Convention Center and the U.S. Department of Treasury Building.

Development Manager KUD International has participated in the construction of Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, CA; Ontario Arena; and Glacier of Anaheim in Anaheim, CA.

“A case study for us was KUD’s work with Major League Baseball’s Giants on the Pacific Bell Park project in San Francisco,” said Banner. “The Giants, who were essentially building a privately-funded stadium, felt that KUD’s expertise in project management, architecture, and their ability to guarantee against cost overruns could be helpful. They also exceeded minority-participation goals. The combined minority and women’s business goal for that project was 20 percent. KUD helped the Giants exceed that, reaching 34 percent. And, because this was a significant issue for us as well, we hired them as a valuable member of the project team,” added Banner.

“We were asked to strive for what are, historically, really extremely aggressive goals with regard to contracts for minority firms [35 percent], for women-owned firms [12 percent], and for disabled-owned firms [2 percent]. That is nearly half of the overall work that we will attempt to pledge to these firms,” said Banner. “ … even without public pressure, we view this as an important issue and, on our own so far, have done a good job,” added Banner.

According to the Eagles, members of Turner Keating McKissack, KUD, the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition (GPUAC) and the Eagles meet each week to go over both strategic and tactical goals as to how they can best reach out into the community and be successful.