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By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Jeff Horn has had more than a few sleepless nights, probably watching the minutes tick off the clock and the calendar getting shorter and shorter.
But when the Austin-Flintco Senior Superintendent was asked about his confidence level of finishing the McLane Stadium project in time for the Aug. 31 season opener against SMU, he didn't flinch: "100 percent."
"There are just a lot of parts and pieces that have to come together to make it happen," Horn said Thursday during the latest media tour of Baylor's $260 million riverfront football stadium. "But we've got a good group of people out here. We're running over 600 men and women out here on the job site on a daily basis. . . If there are changes or things that may occur in the process, then there may be a situation where something might have to be finished after the fact. But right now, there is no plan for that."
Senior Project Manager Jim Heley said the schedule "is nothing new to us." He knew it was an aggressive schedule when construction began in July 2012.
"When you ask if we've been nervous about the schedule, we've been nervous since we walked on the site," Heley said. "It was six days a week from the very beginning, and we're no stranger to night work, either. We've done night work on the bridge (from the campus to the stadium). When a crane went down, we had to use cranes at night to erect the bridge trusses."
But 18 months into the project, the crews are "95 percent dried in on the suite and press box level," Horn said, and the overall job is 60 percent complete.
"We're pretty much where we need to be right now," Horn said. "We've lost 21 days to weather. And we'd always like to be further along than what we are. But we still feel comfortable with where we are. With the weather, that's been a struggle this year, so we'll continue to work through that."
That was also an issue on Thursday, when the official Topping Out had to be delayed because of high winds and near-freezing temperatures.
Addressing the construction crew, along with media and guests, Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said: "The Topping-Out Ceremony will be the last beam that will be put at the top of the stadium. And that is actually not going to happen today, because it's a little windier than we had expected, a little colder than we expected also. But that's going to happen here in the coming days, and that will commemorate the final beam being put at the top of the stadium."
The beam was signed by McCaw and Baylor University President Ken Starr, along with others, but will be placed at the top of the stadium when the temperatures rise and the winds die down.
"Hopefully tomorrow, or the next day, when the weather breaks, we'll set our last piece of structural steel," said Brian Nicholson, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Operations, "followed here in the next few weeks by our last piece of glass. At which point, we'll be dried in; and then we'll pick up 24-hour work days if and when we have to get to that point."
While work continues on the stadium seating bowl, and the field-level work is still a few months away, significant progress has been made in the suites and underneath areas like the Baylor home locker room and a recruiting room that will have a window view from field level.
"The great thing about coming here every couple of weeks, especially lately when the structure started to be framed in," said Baylor Deputy Athletics Director Todd Patulski, "is all the places that we've been dreaming of and designing over the last year or year and a half is starting to materialize. . . . We really feel like this entire stadium, through Populous (architectural) creativity and design and Austin-Flintco's work that they're doing, is going to be the best facility in the country."
Patulski and McCaw both agreed that reality is better than even the dreams.
"I'd say this project has exceeded our expectations," McCaw said. "We thought this was going to be an incredible facility, but it's even exceeded our expectations. Just all the finishes, the fact that we really haven't had to cut back in any areas, we think this will be the best in America when it's completed."
"For someone who has been part of the planning process and seen a lot of the renderings," Patulski said, "but until you get in it and you see the size and how special it's going to be, it is better."
Horn estimates that the Umphrey Bridge, the pedestrian crossing that connects the campus with the new stadium, should be "totally complete" in May.
"We've already tied into this side of the abutment," he said. "So, we're tied in on the job-site side. And we're working our way across to the Baylor campus."
Even in cold and rainy weather, "there are certain things we can do," Horn said.
"If it's just a misting rain, if it's not raining real heavy, we've had iron workers up there hanging steel in that weather," he said. "It's not the best situation for them. The schedule is important, but safety is important as well. . . . Some of those crews get relocated elsewhere to try to do some things that they can work on, because guys don't want to go home. They want to work. So, we relocate things to keep them working, because we need them to work, too."
Work has also started on the new on-campus track stadium that will sit adjacent to McLane Stadium, on the same 93-acre site on the north side of the Brazos River. Projected completion date for the track stadium and indoor facility is Sept. 15, but Heley said, "Our goal is to try to pull it up and get it done early."
"They're working on the surface of the track right now, the infield of the track," Horn said. "We have the foundation in for the building. The underground for the building is in, we're finishing that up.We're scheduled to pour the slab on grade for the building the first part of next week, depending on what the weather does to us now. The bleacher foundations are being installed now, as well as most of the lighting. So, the track is progressing well."
With 64-year-old Floyd Casey Stadium officially closing, the artificial turf from the stadium will be used in the tailgating area at the new stadium. But there are at least a few other items that will make the move to campus.
"Obviously the Grant Teaff statue and that plaza, we're going to relocate as part of the entire project," Nicholson said. "Right now, we're looking at some artifacts and some things at Floyd Casey Stadium and where we would display those here and how we would pay tribute to The Case. We don't have all that finalized yet, but we're looking into it."
And while the current banners that adorn the outside of Floyd Casey Stadium won't be hanging on the outside of McLane Stadium - "I think the architecture here speaks for itself," Nicholson said - "certainly as you walk through the concourse, you will see tons of graphics and Baylor imagery celebrating Baylor football and Baylor athletics and the University."
"It will be totally different than what you see at Floyd Casey, and your experience. I think they'll be better."
In the south end zone, McCaw said, there will be a Baylor Heritage area that recognizes the past and recognizes the school's "football tradition at Floyd Casey Stadium."
"That's an important part of what we're doing here," McCaw said. "At the same time, it's going to be the most modern football stadium in the country. And we're excited about that. . . . This is part of the new Baylor. It's going to be a great landmark, not just for the University, but for the community and for all of Central Texas."