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UCF Golden Knights Armed With On-Campus Stadium

Fri July 20, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Maura Bohart

Fans of the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) football team will have a new place to shout cheers, wear black and gold jerseys and wave UCF flags. Officials at Wharton-Smith, the project’s construction manager, said UCF’s Bright House Stadium will be completed in mid-August.

“The seating structure is 100 percent complete. They’re now working on seating and decking,” said Joe Devillier, Wharton-Smith senior project superintendent.

Wharton-Smith, a general contractor located in Lake Monroe, Fla., with 22 years of experience, was hired in 2006 to design and construct the 45,000-seat, $54 million stadium, which includes two locker rooms, a communications building, concession stands, restrooms, Recruiting Club and a 12-story tower complete with a press box, a Club Level and 24 luxury suites.

It was a massive undertaking. As noted by Jim Toner, an Orlando Sentinel columnist, a football stadium is “a school’s visual signature,” typically the only building on campus that is known far and wide. The school wanted a stadium it could be proud of, and it wanted it to be constructed quickly — in time for the 2007-2008 season.

“One of the key challenges on the project has been the short time frame, 16 months allowed for construction,” said Devillier. “A home game against Texas has been scheduled for Sept. 15 and the stadium has to be ready.”

Wharton-Smith has a good track record with the university. “Wharton-Smith has constructed other projects for the university before,” Devillier said. “They knew we could do the job.”

In May 2006, in the southwest corner of the empty site that would one day be the stadium, Ed Waters Construction Co., a subcontractor, used an unusual system to support the column foundations that would support the new stadium.

“[The footings] are a unique system using sheet piling with a poured foundation and then tied down with helical anchors. I’ve never seen it done that way before,” Devillier said.

The contractors saved concrete and reduced the weight of the pier footings by driving sheet piling 11 ft. (3.4 m) down and screwing in a helical anchor 18 ft. (5.5 m) deep. A PVC sleeve was then placed over the anchors so they could be loaded at a later date.

The playing field was used as a storage area in the early part of construction, a convenient 100-yd. closet for housing steel, aluminum and other building materials.

Stadiums are bowl-shaped and to ensure this one doesn’t fill up like a giant bowl of soup when it rains, an extensive drainage system was constructed under the field. Four in. (10 cm) of rock was then installed over the entire footprint of the field prior to installation of the rootzone material for the grass.

Wharton-Smith performed most of the underground work which included storm, sanitary, lift station and force main. The most challenging part of this work was lining the utilities through a maze of 360 pier footings, according to Devillier.

Laserturf Southeast Inc. used high-tech lasers and old-fashioned grass to create the playing field, which is growing in an attractive shade of green. Some of the grassy areas around the stadium are going to be used for parking. The grass parking areas have been stabilized with fiber mesh to strengthen the subgrade so that emergency vehicles can travel on it in all kinds weather.

The erection of the stadium began approximately four months after the first foundation was installed.

“The erection crew followed the foundation crew around,” Devillier explained.

This follow-the-leader style erection went smoothly.

Southeastern Surveying set anchor bolts with a 0.25-in. (0.6 cm) tolerance. Correct placement of anchor bolts is essential. If they aren’t placed correctly, the columns won’t align on them properly.

“We spent a lot more than we had budgeted for this part of the project but it paid dividends,” Devillier said.

Next, the lower bowl was built using a steel frame and aluminum decking and seating, followed by the upper bowl. Now the stadium stands ready to be used by generations of UCF football players and fans.

The school is excited about the stadium. Before its construction, the Golden Knights played in the Citrus Bowl, approximately 15 mi. from campus. It was hard for students to get to games, especially ones who did not have cars. A stadium within walking distance will allow more students to attend games.

UCF officials also believe the stadium will showcase the school to new students, bringing more applicants, and more money for academic programs.

“The on-campus football stadium is a venture that will pay great dividends in the future for UCF,” said Head Coach George O’Leary. CEG

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