July 10, 2012
BERKELEY - On Nov. 27, 2010, California closed out its final season in the original configuration of Memorial Stadium. Now, less than 21 months later, the venerable facility is on track to be "game ready" for the 2012 campaign.
But what, exactly, does "game ready" mean?
"I think it means different things to different people," said Brian Main, senior project manager with campus Capital Projects. "My goal for the project is to have everything done so that when people come into the stadium, they won't recognize the little things here and there that are not complete. To the general public, it means that we're going to have the place ready to play a football game. The stadium will be completely functional not only for the game, but also for the fans."
Bob Milano Jr., Cal's assistant athletic director for capital planning and management, echoed those sentiments: "Game ready means that we're going to invite 63,000 of our closest friends to come to the stadium and watch Cal football play Nevada, enter safely, have a great time and go home safely."
When fans arrive at Memorial Stadium for the Sept. 1 opener against the Wolf Pack, some of the new elements, such as decorative signs and banners, may not be finished, but just about everything else appears to be right on schedule, according to both Main and Milano.
Construction impacted about 60 percent of the stadium, primarily on the west side where the structure was above the ground and needed to be improved to meet modern seismic standards, but all fans will certainly benefit from the enhancements being made to the building.
"There are going to be a lot of new features, amenities and architecture for fans to enjoy, and we think they will be quite pleased," Milano said.
All of the benches inside Memorial Stadium will now be aluminum - fans won't have to worry anymore about finding splinters in old wooden seats - and as of early July, installation was about 95 percent complete. Chair seating in the new premium Field Club and Stadium Club levels is also in place, with only seating in the University Club atop the new press box still to go.
Veteran gameday visitors may hardly recognize the main concourse level upon their return to the stadium. Not only will it be twice as wide as before, but it will offer views of the campus and San Francisco Bay through the open arches that were previously blocked by offices, meeting rooms and football team facilities. In addition, the concourse has been extended further around the north and south ends of the building than initially built.
Access to the seating area from the concourse will also offer a new look with wider portals that provide a direct path to the seating area without the need to climb several stairs, as was the case previously. The entries will help improve flow in and out of the bowl and ensure compliance with disability standards on the west side.
Greeting ticket holders on the west side will be large, contemporary restrooms and concession areas that will accommodate fans more easily and efficiently than ever before.
"The restrooms are substantially complete," said Main, who added that sinks and toilets are already in place and that the construction team is installing details such as partitions and soap dispensers to have them ready for Sept. 1.
By early July, both the new, permanent field lighting and a high-tech sound system had been installed. The lights are on the "eyebrow" of the press box on the west and on four vertical columns on the east side. They were designed to focus light and sound into the bowl, minimizing any spill and glare into the surrounding area.
"The sound system for the bowl is designed to provide maximum clarity for voice and project the sound inward," Milano said. "It's also been designed to be architecturally minimalistic so that the stadium views in and out are not blocked."
Main compared the speakers, which were developed specifically for Memorial Stadium, to 8-12-foot tall candlesticks placed around the rim. "The sound is going to be state of the art, and I can't wait to hear how it sounds," he said.
In addition, speakers have been placed on the concourse, inside the restrooms and throughout the club levels to allow fans to follow the game when they are not in their seats.
The field itself is projected to be completed by mid-August in order to allow the Bears a couple of weeks to work out on the surface before the season opener. The synthetic Matrix Turf system, developed and installed by Hellas Sports Construction, is used by such teams and venues as the Dallas Cowboys, Baylor and the Sun Bowl.
Completing a project of this magnitude does not come without its concerns, and Main pointed to two areas that are on his daily radar - the scoreboards and the site work just outside the north end of the building.
When Memorial Stadium reopens, it will feature two video boards within the existing structures of the original north and south scoreboards - both will provide about 90 percent more video area than the old Bear Vision board - plus a ribbon board on the face of the press box. More restoration work was required within the original scoreboards than anticipated, but, said Main, "we're working seven days a week on the scoreboards right now and they're looking good."
The focus at the north end of the site is on the new grand stair that will guide fans from Piedmont Avenue in front of the Haas School of Business into the stadium, a redone historic stair that hugs the façade and leads to the east rim, and finishing out the Service Center that will include 10 permanent ticket windows. "Again, with enough focus, we'll get there," Main said. "That work will go right up to the very end."
Ultimately, safety was the driving factor for the retrofit and renovation and a high percentage of the $321 million cost has gone into structural upgrades to help Memorial Stadium withstand a seismic event on the Hayward Fault. A team that included engineers, architects from HNTB Architecture and STUDIOS Architecture, and members of the campus Seismic Review Committee spent years collaborating to develop a suitable solution.
"If there was a big earthquake, I'd want to be sitting out here in the stands," Main said. "We poured 50,000 cubic yards of concrete on the west side and we put in about 14 million pounds of steel to enforce it. That structure is stout. It's not going anywhere."
Memorial Stadium will soon provide modern amenities fans now expect in a sports venue, all while paying homage to the historic nature of the building that originally opened in time for the 1923 Big Game.
"I think people are going to walk in and are going to say `Wow,'" Main said. "They're going to be blown away."