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Hard work pays off: sparkling stadium ready for season opener

Stephanie Gross
The pergola is the signature element of the renovated Scott Stadium, set for its Sept. 2 debut. Each of the 72 columns is 18 feet tall and weighs nine tons.

By Dan Heuchert

After three years of deadline pressure, Dick Laurance now can enjoy the fruit of his labor.

Laurance is Facilities Management's project manager for the highest-profile construction job on Grounds since the old hospital was replaced in 1989: the three-year, $86 million expansion of Scott Stadium at the Carl W. Smith Center. Laurance -- who also helped oversee the hospital project -- has worked virtually non-stop to have the stadium ready for its Sept. 2 debut, a home football game against Brigham Young University.

The stadium got its final thumbs-up from state inspectors Aug. 8, marking its transition from a construction site to a University facility.

Two days later, Laurance was relaxed enough to sit back in one of 44 new luxury suites and listen to an old Eagles tune being used to test the stadium's sound system. "I really enjoyed that," he said.

At the project's peak, more than 300 workers could be found on the site on any given day, and some subcontractors put in 70-hour weeks to meet the Sept. 2 deadline, Laurance said. Since early January, work has gone on seven days a week in the most critical areas.

"There were scary moments, but I never doubted it would be ready Sept. 2," Laurance said.

Not that there was any alternative. Carl Smith, whose $23 million gift to the University set the project in motion, specified that the expansion be completed by the 2000 football season.

The project's original price tag was $50 million, but the scale of the project grew as fund-raising efforts exceeded expectations and other elements were added: a 600-space parking garage, three new seating sections at the north ends of the upper decks, additional office space in the reconstructed Bryant Hall, 22 more luxury suites, and the pergola and brick pedestrian plaza at the north end.

Despite the changes, only a few minor details won't be ready by kickoff. Trees included in the landscaping plan won't be planted until October, giving them a better shot at survival, and the areas between the upper and lower decks of the north wings are being left unfinished as University officials decide whether to develop them into additional suites or club-style seating.

Head football coach George Welsh appreciated the project's efficiency, Laurance said. Welsh attended a lunch for the many workers who put in long hours on the project and thanked them. "As he left, he said, 'I guess we've got to win some football games now,'" said Laurance, who credited Barton-Malow, a construction management firm, with the speedy completion. The expansion added 16,500 additional seats, bringing the stadiumıs total capacity to 61,500. The luxury suites have proven popular; as of mid-August, 41 of the 44 had been leased at $50,000 per year for a minimum of three years. The number of concession stands has more than tripled, from eight to 25, each with two television sets allowing fans to keep up with the game while waiting in what should be shorter lines. Likewise, there is a dramatic boost in restroom facilities: from 184 menıs toilets to 414, and from 100 for women to 461. There are also unisex bathrooms for families with young children.

Both the president' and press boxes have more than doubled in size.

There are five major gates to the stadium, and visitors can now walk completely around it on the same level.

The new Bryant Hall, tucked under the south upper deck, is twice the size of its predecessor. It includes a new U.Va. football museum; several athletics offices, including ticketing, the Virginia Student Aid Foundation, Academic Support and Virginia Sports Marketing; rooms for football alumni and recruits; and the new home of University Career Services. The latter group will use the luxury suites for on-Grounds employment interviews throughout the school year.

The stadium's most striking new feature is the stately pergola that towers over the brick pedestrian plaza at the north end. It consists of a double row of 18-foot-tall columns. Each of the 36 pairs of columns is capped by a large crossbeam.

Fourth-year quarterback Dan Ellis, who lives near the stadium and has closely watched its progress, said he is eager to play there.

"It's awesome," Ellis said. "I always dream about it. That place is going to be nuts when we run out there Sept. 2."


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