Going deep: East Stadium workers drudge beneath surface during football season

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Workers pour concrete into a pile cap on Memorial Stadium’s east side on Sept. 28. Steel work is expected to begin after football season ends. The project, which will add about 6,000 seats, will be finished for the 2013 season.

Story and photos by Ryne Stefankiewicz, NewsNetNebraska

Fans think sportswriters have the best view on Husker game days. But starting in 2013, after Memorial Stadium’s East Stadium expansion is finished, fans will have an identical view.

“The outdoor seats that will be mounted on top of the East Stadium skyboxes will be at the exact same height as the skyboxes across the field from them,” said Butch Hug, Nebraska associate athletic director for facilities and events.

For now, fans can only imagine the view. And they can’t even see much of the work on the $63.5 million project that is taking place during this year’s football season.

Before the season, workers drilled 75-feet piles into the bedrock. They are pouring concrete into the pile caps, which will support the columns that will hold up the structure. A pile cap is a mass of concrete connecting underground beams to above-ground columns that will support the structure’s load.

The crane outside East Stadium will be used more this winter when workers start steelwork.

“About 20 percent of the work is done underground and goes unseen by the average fan,” said Harmon Conner, Sampson Construction’s on-site project manager. Sampson Construction also built the North and West Stadium additions. “Right now, we are almost finished with that 20 percent.”

During Nebraska’s two-game road streaks, workers are able to get more done than when home games are back-to-back. During a home-game week, workers have to start cleaning the site on Thursdays to prepare for fans. The university uses Fridays to prepare for game days. Right now, they are nearing the end of a 12-day stretch without having to put away equipment.

The plan is to finish the pile caps during the season. After the Iowa game, Nebraska’s final home game, Conner said, it will take about two weeks before people start seeing steel coming out of the ground. Steel is sturdy enough that workers can continue to put the steel frame up during the winter, even when it snows.

“Before we can start with the steel structure, the existing light fixtures have to come down, so that will be done the Monday or Tuesday after the final game,” Conner said.

The steel frame is scheduled to be finished by August 2012. By then, workers plan to have the new light fixtures mounted to the steel frame. The current light heads will be reused.

When fans return for the spring game in April, a new East Stadium skeleton will be slowly growing. With the frame reaching into the sky, fans may wonder what the view will be like from the new seats. The answer? Not much different than the view sportswriters have on the west side.

Other events affected by construction

High school football finals – The state finals will be played Nov. 21-22. Because it is during Nebraska’s season, little will change. “Some of those areas that are going to be available for Nebraska football may be off limits for state football,” Hug said.

Spring game – Construction will be at full speed by April. Tunnels will be created leading to gates for fans to enter the east side of the stadium, Hug said.

Lincoln Marathon – The Vine Street loop will still be used as the starting point for the race, which will be held on May 6. The southwest corner of the stadium is still where runners will finish, Hug said. Runners will likely have to enter the starting loop through the southeast gates, because the east gates will be in the construction zone.

High school football Shrine Bowl – The June game is usually played under the lights. Not this year. Memorial Stadium will only have lights on the west side in June, so the game will have to be played during the day.

Other tidbits

-The windows on East Stadium’s facade will remain once the new structure encloses the current 88-year-old facade. “The athletic department considered replacing them, but it didn’t really make sense,” Conner said. “It’s an 88-year-old building. It would look out of place with brand-new windows.”

-The new concourse will be about 16 feet wide. The existing concourse is about 12 feet. Both will still be used, creating a split concourse much like the one on the stadium’s west side.

-For renderings of what east stadium will look like when finished, visit huskers.com.

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