Braves Ballpark Builders Race to Beat Schedule
The project team seeks to meet a historically tight schedule for a major-league ballpark
In its history, the Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team—which famously went from worst to first in the National League during the 1991 season—has experienced its share of impressive finishes. With construction of its new home—SunTrust Park—the Braves organization is aiming at another storied finish, opening a modern stadium on one of the fastest delivery schedules in MLB history.
The 41,500-seat stadium, which broke ground in September 2014, is scheduled for completion in February 2017 in order to be ready for the start of the baseball season. The aggressive schedule ranks second only to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., which was delivered in under two years.
The $672-million stadium, a concrete and steel structure with a brick facade, is the focal point of a mixed-use development—dubbed The Battery Atlanta—that will feature retail, hotel, office and residential spaces.
A four-firm roster of contractors is building the project under the construction manager at-risk joint venture American Builders 2017. Comprised of Brasfield & Gorrie, Mortenson Construction, Barton Malow Co. and New South Construction, the joint venture firms have completed more than 330 sports facilities combined.
Populous, Kansas City, Mo., leads the design team with Jones Lange LaSalle serving as the program manager for the Braves organization.
Mark Granger, operations director for American Builders 2017, says that to improve collaboration, reduce the risk of conflicts and keep the project moving ahead, the joint venture divided up areas of responsibility by people, not by companies. “By mixing and matching people from each company, it takes away any hidden agendas,” he says. “Each person has a role and you’re responsible for your other team members. If you try to segregate it, people will tend to lean more toward their company, not the joint venture. By mixing it all up, if you screw up you’re letting down the joint venture, not one individual company.”
Building a team was further complicated by competition for subcontractors and labor. As plans for the new stadium were coming together, work on the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, future home of the Atlanta Falcons football team, was also moving ahead. “Unfortunately [the Falcons’ project] buyout was a little bit ahead of us,” Granger says. “Overall, we did well in terms of getting solid contractors. We’ve had issues with manpower and will continue to, but nothing that has an impact on schedule that we can’t overcome.”
At peak, the ballpark project will require about 1,200 workers on site with an additional 500 workers at neighboring Battery Atlanta projects. Chris Britton, project director with American Builders 2017, says the team has done its best to hire local workers, but due to shortages, it has had to reach as far as Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania to find enough labor. Roughly a quarter of the labor force is made up of travelers, he says.
Granger says that training has also been a critical part of the project. “Early on, we saw that one-third of the people we oriented had zero previous construction experience,” he says. “That’s a huge red flag.”
To meet the fast-track schedule, American Builders began working on the project while some designs were still in the pre-schematic phase. MEP and structural precast contractors were brought in at completion of the design development documents.
“It wasn’t a true design-assist role, but we offered some value engineering and some design input,” says Miller Chalk, senior project manager at electrical contractor Inglett & Stubbs, Mableton, Ga. “We worked closely with engineers from 75% documents to final design.”
The joint venture didn’t reach a final GMP until nearly nine months after breaking ground.
Built on a 60-acre wooded site at the crossing of Interstates 75 and 285 in Cobb County, the team had limited information about the greenfield site prior to breaking ground. Once crews mobilized, the site soon proved to be the team’s greatest construction challenge. In addition to three existing natural gas pipelines running through the main portion of the stadium that had to be relocated, the team found deep rock formations near home plate and soft soils in the outfield. Crews blasted roughly 50 ft deep into the rocky areas and surcharged soils for 45 days.
The foundation system is a mix of spread footings on rock and caissons in the soil sections that reach up to 90 ft deep.
Initial sequencing called for the project to be built starting at home plate and progressing into the outfield. Due to site issues, the project had to be completely resequenced to start in the outfield with teams working in both directions around the stadium and meeting at the home team dugout. “We ended up working in several different areas at the same time to make up schedule,” Granger says.
At one point, 14 cranes were in use on the site.
The structure of the stadium—a hybrid of concrete and steel—was the main focus of the project for nearly a year, says Randy Schnieders, lead superintendent. When American Builders 2017 was brought onboard, the team was asked to consider various structural system options. Its analysis led to a system that is concrete with steel on top. “Part of the reason was speed,” he says. “You can design the concrete and get rebar fabricated faster than you can get structural steel fabricated. Those design decisions allowed us to get started on the concrete first, so you didn’t have a tremendously long lead time.”
Concrete was also self-performed, which Schnieders says gave the team better control of schedule and costs.
The first level features 37 steel rakers that are more than 78 ft long. Rakers were prefabricated in Texas, shipped to the site and picked from trucks for placement. “That was a big task getting those across the country, but well worth the effort,” Schnieders says.
Other structural features include a 100,000-sq-ft canopy over the seating bowl that is up to 80 ft deep. Brad Albers, project architect at Populous, claims it will be the largest canopy of its type in a major league stadium when completed. “We did a lot of shade studies,” he says. “The Braves wanted to make sure that the highest number of fans would be in the shade on sunny days. Roughly 60% [of seats] will be in the shade.”
Inglett & Stubbs also used prefabrication to accelerate its schedule and mitigate labor shortages, Chalk says. Between 2% and 3% of the firm’s man-hours on the project will be spent on offsite prefabrication at a facility located five miles away. Prefabricated items include wall rough-ins; light fixture supports; sports lighting; cat walk panels, lighting, power and lightning prevention; and conduit sleeves, racks and bends.
One of the most innovative parts of the project will be its LED sports lighting system. American Builders 2017 and Inglett & Stubbs worked with GE to develop the manufacturer’s first full LED system in a major league stadium. “There was a lot of due diligence and joint engineering required to get it the way everyone wanted,” Chalk says. “It’s a big deal if the sports lighting is not right. It potentially has a bigger effect on the game than anything else. Energy savings was part of it, but the quality of the light is much better for the players and for TV.”
As the project moves closer to completion, much of the team’s focus is on building out the numerous corporate suites, premium seats and retail spaces in the stadium. “Sponsors like SunTrust, Xfinity, Miller Coors, CocaCola and Delta … those big players were brought in and we’re adjusting our finishes to accommodate their brands,” says Adam Cobb, senior project manager. “That is ongoing with some of it still on the design table, making sure we get all of the signage right. We have a lot of challenges yet from that side with the sponsor [areas].”