Here’s something: ODU will do an 18-month football stadium reconstruction in 9 months

NORFOLK — It took James Madison University two years to renovate Bridgeforth Stadium, the school’s 25,000-seat football facility. When Liberty University began a modest expansion of Williams Stadium in the fall of 2017, it wasn’t complete a year later when the Flames opened against Old Dominion

In neither case did the schools face the time constraints, nor perhaps the complexities, that ODU does with its renovation of S.B. Ballard Stadium.

ODU began tearing down the east and west stands, then will rebuild them – all in nine months. Giant claw-like cranes, called material processors, are tearing down the clam-shell sidelines and trucks are hauling away the debris.

“Basically, we’re doing a project that should take at least 18 months, and doing it in nine,” said Rusty Waterfield, ODU’s associate vice president for university services and chief information officer for information technology services.

David Robichaud, ODU’s assistant director of design and construction, has been involved in the construction business for 32 years.

“I’ve never been involved in a project like this one and done it in nine months,” he said.

Yet University officials remain optimistic that the stadium will be ready when ODU hosts Norfolk State on Aug. 31, 2019.

Greg DuBois, ODU’s vice president for administration and finance, said the University “looked at other projects done around the country in this fashion, and we worked with the architects and contractors to assure ourselves we could do it in nine months.

“It will be a tremendous challenge, but we’re confident it can and will be done on time.”

S.B. Ballard Construction, the Virginia Beach firm hired to build the $67.5 million stadium, has set what Waterfield calls “a worst-case scenario schedule.”

“The unforeseen is going to happen,” Robichaud said. “Equipment is going to break down, there will be weather delays and delivery delays.

“Ballard has factored the unknown into this schedule.”

The University got a head start this summer when infrastructure work, including water supply and wastewater lines, were installed, as was the base work for six light poles. The poles were installed this fall.

DuBois said the University considered doing the stadium in two phases over two years, but quickly decided that would not work.

“If we’d done this over two seasons, not only would it have been more disruptive to the university and the surrounding community, it would have been quite a bit more expensive,” he said.

Robichaud said it would have cost at least $5 million more, and that’s not factoring in the increasing cost of construction materials.

“We’re holding to our commitment to do this in a cost-effective way without increasing student fees,” DuBois said. “We want to be good stewards of the university’s funds. That was part of our thought process.”

Moreover, with a residential hall named for civil rights leader Hugo Owens and a chemistry building set to begin construction early in 2019, DuBois said stretching out the project over two years was unacceptable.

“Getting this project out of the way helps to lessen the disruption,” he said.

Ballard has hired two contractors to tear down and haul away debris on each side of the stadium.

Next, four pile-driving machines will pound and screw 670 piles about 85 feet deep. Concrete trucks will follow to pour the foundation footers for the stadium, then will come construction of the steel structure for stands.

“We’ve got to start installing the bleachers by March,” Waterfield said.

ODU has taken all the precautions it can to minimize impacts on surrounding neighborhoods. The pile-driving machines are hydraulic and don’t make nearly as much noise as traditional machines.

In fact, the noise produced by demolition Monday night was negligible.

But in presentations to area civic leagues, Waterfield was honest – there will be noise. Because of the short time frame, demolition will occur around the clock.

“We’re going to do everything we can to minimize the noise,” he told the Larchmont Civic League.

“But the end result is going to be fabulous for Old Dominion and the neighborhood. It’s going to be a great amenity.”

Robichaud said Ballard hopes to overlap some phases of construction. For instance, he plans to begin driving pilings before demolition is complete, then pour foundation in areas where pilings are in the ground while the pile drivers continue to work elsewhere.

Civic league members in Larchmont and Highland Park expressed concern about construction workers parking in their neighborhoods. That’s not going to happen, Waterfield said.

“We have more than adequate off-site parking for them,” he said. “We’re going to make sure they don’t park in your neighborhood.”

Scott Silsdorf, ODU’s director of transportation and parking services, said the fact that the stadium will seat about 1,000 more than the current stadium also won’t drive parking into the neighborhoods.

Officials believe that about 350 spaces are needed to meet the need and that ODU has that much excess capacity now at football games.

Piles won’t be driven on Sundays, Thanksgiving or Christmas, Waterfield said.

The compressed schedule put a lot of pressure on ODU officials to clear gear out of the stadium after Saturday’s game against VMI.

Rick French, associate athletic director for operations, set up storage containers near ODU’s sailing center to hold everything from the couches in the referees’ locker room, to refrigerators in the press room, to the apparel worn by Big Blue, ODU’s mascot.

Willie Spencer, a capital outlay engineer for design and construction, had an even bigger headache. He had to make sure that the stoves, popcorn poppers and other concessions equipment, and items that can be reused, such as cable for the sound system, was moved out by Monday.

“Anything we don’t get out of there on time is gone,” French said. “We’ve been working the last few weeks to get as much stuff out of there as we can that isn’t essential for the last game.”

By 5 p.m. Monday, the stadium was empty and essentially turned over to Ballard Construction. Two cranes then began tearing down the east side of the stadium.

When ODU opens against Norfolk State next year, all 15,000 of the new seats on the sidelines will have back support, including about one-third that will be chairback seats.

Both sidelines will have two levels of seating, and there will be a new press box and club area, called the Priority Automotive Club, on the west side.

ODU alumnus Dennis Ellmer, founder and CEO of Priority Automotive, donated $1.5 million to the stadium effort. The club was named for his company because of his many donations to ODU over the years.

Coach Bobby Wilder said when he first walked into Foreman Field nearly 12 years ago, he knew it would be a great home for an FCS team. But he said the new S.B. Ballard Stadium will move ODU ahead of many FBS schools and has already helped recruiting.

“When all the work is done, we’re going to have the finest stadium in Conference USA,” Wilder said.

“The kids who’ve committed to us are excited about the new stadium. But I know the fans are even more excited. It will be a much more comfortable place to watch football.”

Stadium timeline

  • Site Utility: July-August, mid-February
  • Light Poles: Oct. 14-26
  • Prepare Site: Nov. 18-19
  • Demolition, cleanup and rough grade: Nov. 20-mid December
  • Piles and Foundation (670 piles): Early December-January
  • Structural Steel: February-March
  • Seating Installation (Must start by March): March-early June
  • Restrooms, Concessions and Pressbox: May-August
  • Field Turf and ScoreboardAugust

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.