TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The quiet of spring break on the University of Alabama campus was broken only by the sound of a few swinging cranes and the movement of construction workers Friday afternoon.
Nearly a year after construction hit full stride, progress on the south end zone expansion at Bryant-Denny Stadium is ahead of schedule as the frame for the upper seating bowl takes shape. Heavy construction should be complete by July, giving crews several weeks to work on cosmetics before the final deadline in mid-August. That’s well ahead of the Crimson Tide’s Sept. 4 home opener with San Jose State.
Thad Turnipseed, director of athletic facilities, called the expansion “one of the smoothest projects we’ve ever had.”
“There have been very few issues,” he said. “I couldn’t be any more pleased with the progress of the project.”
Though the picturesque weather of late last week made working conditions ideal, a wetter than usual winter added a degree of difficulty to the $65 million dollar project that will add symmetry to the 81-year-old stadium.
Stephen Franklin, one of the four project managers for Brasfield and Gorrie general contractors, said his team of workers used every available hour, day or night, to make up for time lost because of weather. The day shift typically runs from 6:30 a.m. through 6 p.m. seven days a week while the night crew goes from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. on weekdays.
For the contractors based out of Birmingham, stadium construction is not unique. They worked on the 2005 renovation of Coleman Coliseum, built the concrete form for the Georgia Dome in the early 1990s and did renovation work at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn and Legion Field in Birmingham.
The Bryant-Denny Stadium project was unique.
“It’s different because it’s a seven-story building with a stadium on top of it,” Franklin said.
Along with the close to 10,000 extra seats in the club and upper levels, the expansion includes offices, a donor hall of fame, an outdoor game day market and a two-story atrium.
Working straight through the 2009 football season added another degree of difficulty since fans filed through the worksite on game days. Work generally came to a halt on the Fridays before the game to secure the site for the extra visitors.
“I’ve never worked on a project where we had something like that on a consistent basis,” Franklin said. “Most projects from time to time make special accommodations for certain events, but when there’s 100,000 people coming for a football game week in and week out over a three-month period, it’s a unique process.”
The game day plan remains the same for the April 17 A-Day Game when another near-capacity crowd is expected.
It will be the last time the stadium will seat 92,000. By the time San Jose State arrives in September, the seating bowl will accommodate more than 101,000.
It will also be the end of major expansion projects that took what started as a 12,000-seat structure in 1929 to one of the biggest in the nation.
Turnipseed said there are no plans in the works for further work at Bryant-Denny. Any additional seating would potentially add few more than a handful of spots simply because there is nowhere else to build.
There is plenty more work to be done on the other athletic facilities on campus.
Demolition work is already underway at Coleman Coliseum for the project that will eventually leave the men’s basketball program with a new practice facility, locker room and offices. The first phase including the locker rooms should be finished by October and the practice gym should be complete by January, 2011.
The renovation work at Foster Auditorium is three months into the project slated for completion by October. The historic building will again be the home of the women’s basketball and volleyball programs.