TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For Stephen Franklin and Courtney Pittman, this project was a legacy maker.
Given its aggressive schedule, tricky location and the client involved, the south end zone expansion of Bryant-Denny Stadium will be hard to top for the project’s operations manager and architect.
And the fact that both are Auburn graduates, both promised, had no impact on quality of the work wrapping up on Bryant Drive.
“I’ve told people on numerous occasions that it’s hard to expect I’ll have an opportunity to work on a project this complex and in such a setting,” said Franklin, the operations manager from Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors. “I hope I do, but this is one of those that doesn’t come along very often.”
In all, crews logged 197,000 man hours on the eight-story structure that includes offices, club lounges, skyboxes and an 8,500-seat upper deck. At the peak of construction, workers were on site 120 hours a week.
Under normal circumstances, Franklin said, the project would have spanned 20 months. Instead, work was completed in 16. Additional challenges included a narrow footprint for the structure, the existing seating bowl and a lack of preparation area because of the Evergreen Cemetery that backs right up to Bryant Drive.
Pittman was the architect for the two end-zone expansions completed in the past four years. The two jobs were similar, she said, but a few differences stood out. The upper deck in the south end zone is four rows taller than its northern counterpart and reaches 158 feet into the sky. The bench seats also have backs unlike the north end zone deck completed before the 2006 season.
Although symmetrical, Pittman and UA’s athletics facilities director Thad Turnipseed said they are asked regularly why the end zone upper decks didn’t just match up with the two on the side lines to prevent the gaps.
The answer is simple, really.
“It’s not physically possible to connect them,” Pittman said.
The west side of the stadium is six feet taller than the east side and “countless” site studies revealed about 800 seats per corner would not be able to see a third of the field.
Other changes that will go on display officially for the Sept. 4 home opener with San Jose State include the sound system and video boards.
All four corners will have new screens and both end zones will have LED ribbon boards similar to those on the sidelines.
The cluster sound system was also replaced with a distributive arrangement that has speakers located all over the stadium instead of just one large collection. Bryant-Denny Stadium will be one of only two college stadiums in the nation with the technology.
Taking on another expansion just years after the north end zone was completed wasn’t part of the plan originally, athletic director Mal Moore said. But ticket demand kept surging after the capacity reached 92,000 to the point where the season ticket waiting list topped 10,000. For skyboxes, more than 50 clients had the demand but nowhere to go. The south end zone now houses 34 toward the total of 157.
Moore joked about the look he gets from UA athletics chief financial officer Finus Gaston every time stadium expansion is projected. The south end zone project was bid out for $65 million — $10 million less than original projections but still more expensive than the $47 million north end zone.
“I might be a big spender,” Moore said, “but he’s tight as hell.”
For now, at least, the work is complete.
Realistically, there isn’t much more expansion possible for the stadium that originally sat 12,000 when it opened in 1929.
“I’m sure there’s always an opportunity to find some seats and I’m sure Alabama will in the coming years,” Pittman said. “But I’m sure this was meant to be the final touch to this stadium — the final statement of Bryant-Denny and Crimson Tide football.”