University of Wyoming’s New Athletics Center Gives Project Team a Workout
Most of the heavy lifting is complete. With a 71,000-sq-ft addition already under their belt, construction crews are just months away from winding up renovations to the adjoining athletic training center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Perched at 7,220 ft above sea level, the $36-million complex, which includes both new and renovated elements, is intended to propel student athletes who train at a high altitude to peak-performance levels.
Current work on the university’s 17-year-old, 48,000-sq-ft Rochelle Athletic Center, which was closed during renovations, involves new flooring and interior finishes as well as mechanical and electrical upgrades, says Matthew Kibbon, UW’s deputy director for facilities construction management.
Upon completion in July, the Rochelle Center and its newly occupied addition, the two-story, 71,000-sq-ft Mick and Susie McMurry High Altitude Performance Center (HAPC), will function as a single facility. It houses state-of-the-art equipment and programs that allow athletes to develop endurance levels that can’t be easily achieved at lower elevations.
Conversely, HAPC also houses a chamber that simulates conditions at lower altitudes, allowing athletes to prep for competition in locations such as San Diego. Additional spaces, ranging from a 12,000-sq-ft weight room and a training table to low- and high-temperature recovery plunge pools, an academic center and a sports medicine and rehabilitation center, seek to attract top talent to UW athletics, which has teams that compete in the NCAA’s Mountain West Conference.
“The center is probably the first place coaches will take respective recruits when they visit campus,” says Matt Whisenant, the university’s deputy director of athletics. “Our athletics program had simply outgrown the Rochelle Center, and the addition provided an opportunity to create a one-stop shop focused on a student’s athletic, academic and professional development.”
Fronting the Rochelle Center and sited only 50 ft from the north end zone of the UW Cowboys’ War Memorial Stadium, HAPC’s southern elevation also serves as the face of the university, particularly for fans tuned into televised games. For purposes of branding, UW officials desired forms and materials that recall elements of the campus’ historic Romanesque Revival architecture. In response, plans called for a pair of identical two-story wings flanking a central entry tower and clad in alternating bands of split-face sandstone and dual-height glazing.
“The massing is highly symmetrical,” observes Stephan A. Pappas, principal with Cheyenne’s Pappas & Pappas Architects, the architect of record in consultation with Denver-based DLR Group. “The university was very particular about the architecture.”
Sandstone cladding, he notes, is required of all UW facilities due to its long-standing use on campus. “The project’s aesthetics reflect those of many buildings on the university’s quad,” adds Bob Binder, principal with DLR Group.
As plans unfolded, UW requested that designers and builders expedite the enclosure in time for the start of the 2017 football season. Accordingly, project team members—including the architects, the Wyoming office of contractor GE Johnson and the structural engineer, Martin/Martin—negotiated a narrow nine-month window, from December 2016 to Sept. 16, 2017, to deliver all exterior work, from structure to cladding, in time for a nationally televised game between the Cowboys and the University of Oregon.
“The university didn’t want the building to look as if it was under construction,” Pappas says.
Completing the same work for a comparably sized structure would have required an additional month or two, estimates Ryan Kaplanek, project manager with GE Johnson. “We knew the timeline was tight,” he says. Meeting key milestone dates meant quickly identifying and procuring long-lead items, including steel, concrete and the glazing and masonry for the facade.
“There was only one quarry in the nation, located in Utah, that supplied the type of sandstone the university required,” Kaplanek says. With the quarry’s product in high demand, “We ordered it just in time, given it took months and months to get the stone on site,” he says. “We started procurement immediately after negotiating a guaranteed maximum price in fall 2016, during the design phase.”
Given the accelerated schedule, GE Johnson proved particularly helpful in its role as construction manager, evaluating project components in accordance with budget and schedule, according to Kibbon.
Martin/Martin Wyoming opted for a steel-framed structure. “Steel rises quickly and expeditiously,” says Derek Swanson, an associate with the engineering firm. Additionally, trades capable of constructing concrete structures are in short supply in the area, he notes. The foundation consists of spread footings that rest upon rammed aggregate piers—the latter were specified due to variable relative densities near surface soils that would have resulted in high differential settlement and low bearing capacity.
In addition to minimizing the size of footings, the piers—relatively short elements of highly compacted aggregate that effectively densify soils—reduce the potential for total and differential settlement, according to Swanson. They also provide columns of high-modulus gravel to support and distribute applied loads, he adds.
In addition to placing the 361 rammed piers, the nine-month window included installation of 525 tons of steel, 130 tons of rebar, 4,000 cu yd of concrete and 32,000 sq ft of masonry materials, according to GE Johnson.
Although dictated in part by the UW Cowboys’ football schedule, winter wasn’t an ideal time to break ground on the project. Foundation work required the use of ground heaters to keep soil warm enough for placement as well as blankets to cover the concrete before and after pours.
“We didn’t want the concrete to freeze while it set and cured or it would have lost compressive strength,” Kaplanek says. Likewise, spring proved challenging for erecting the steel structure, given the windy conditions that prevailed at the time. In response, crews fitted columns not completely tied into facility diaphragms with guy wiring that extended to grade and was secured to concrete anchors, thereby stabilizing the members. To maintain the schedule, crews worked weekends, Kaplanek says.
The sandstone facade conforms to an ashlar pattern approved in the presentation of mock-ups to university officials during planning. In a nutshell, ashlar incorporates several sizes of stone of varying hues into the facade. The quarry cut, split and sized the sandstone, then shipped 4-in.-thick segments to the site via pallets, says Kaplanek.
“They were typically palletized by color,” adds Pappas. He says it was up to masons to sort through the stones, organizing and installing them in accordance with the required pattern.
Among other tasks, masons performed considerable cutting to integrate the sandstone with other facade components, including glazing and decorative cast stone, Kaplanek says. It was tough work, but the crew managed to maintain the pace, he adds. During peak periods, up to 35 masons were working on site.
Structure and enclosure were completed with a week to spare, Kaplanek says.
With the building shell complete, crews turned their attention to a phased interiors schedule with the following due dates: handover of HAPC’s weight room to UW Athletics on Jan. 30; the remainder of HAPC facilities and select portions of the renovated Rochelle Center by March 23; and final portions of the project by July 12.
In addition to the weight room, training table, recovery plunge pools, academic center and sports medicine and rehabilitation center, the scope includes a new locker room, coaches’ offices, a dual-height, theater-style auditorium known as the War Room, and more.
Kibbon credits GE Johnson with “keeping trades from falling all over each other” as they prepped spaces with mechanical, electrical, flooring and finish systems to support equipment in areas such as the training-table kitchen, the War Room and expanded academic center, sited between new and existing facilities.
“We were very fortunate to get great subcontractors for all phases of the project,” says Todd Reynolds, project executive with GE Johnson. “We weren’t working in an area where you typically receive six to eight bids per trade.”