Among the past decade’s $160 million of athletics facility projects, the completion of the Jack Trice South Endzone expansion is the most ambitious and talked-about yet
By Kate Bruns, VISIONS magazine, fall 2015
Dean McCormick has multiple files in his office labeled “Jack Trice Stadium South Endzone.” One is dated 1997. One is from 2002. Another is from 2008. It’s a project the university’s director for design and construction services has thought about a lot during his 21 years on campus. It’s a project fans have been clamoring for for decades. It’s a job multiple athletics directors have aspired to do. It’s a video McCormick (L)(’81 construction engr) has played in his mind a few times. So when athletics director Jamie Pollard (L) came to him in 2013 and asked if the south endzone of Jack Trice Stadium could be renovated between football seasons, McCormick felt fully qualified to give him an unequivocal no.
No, the $60 million stadium renovation couldn’t be completed in less than a year. But, McCormick says, once he realized Pollard’s proposed club building would be located behind the former south endzone bleachers, he knew they could make something work; the job could get done in a creative way without too much disruption to the Cyclone football program and its loyal fans.
“We put together project goals early on,” said senior associate athletics director for facilities Chris Jorgensen. “One was that we didn’t want to impact the customer and fan experience for the 2014 season, and another was that we wanted to start the 2015 season with two awesome fan experiences. Those aren’t easy goals to meet. The easy thing for our construction team to say would have been, ‘Can we just relocate those fans?’ That would have been easy for everyone – except, of course, the 2,900 fans who sit in that section and bought those seats for 2014. So we just set out to make it work.”
McCormick and Jorgensen say they got the green light to begin planning the project in February 2014 with a firm completion deadline of kickoff on Sept. 5, 2015. That’s less than 19 months to get the job done, and, as McCormick noted, “there could be no plan B.”
“This isn’t an overly complicated project at its base level,” McCormick said. “But there’s no phased move-in. It’s 100 percent occupied on September 5. It’s all gotta work, and there’s no reserve parachute. I think that’s what makes it unique.”
Recognizing the high profile of the project and the number of stakeholders involved in its success, McCormick and Jorgensen said they ramped up their level of collaboration and learned a few things in the process. Working with ISU Facilities Planning & Management, Neumann Monson Architects, and construction manager The Weitz Company, the project team identified a unique 24-hour decision-making strategy that played a key role in making sure the ambitious project got done in time.
“We just said, ‘We’re going to bring the decision maker and be down here every day at 7:30 a.m. with all the people necessary,” McCormick explained. “We put the decision on the table and we’ll either make it that day or the next day. That kept the panic out of people’s eyes. We managed to keep small problems from getting to be big problems.”
McCormick says the project wouldn’t have been possible without the collaborative leadership of the athletics department. Pollard has overseen $160 million worth of facilities projects during his 10-year tenure, often using unconventional tactics to make dreams into reality but always being flexible, creative, and open about the process.
“I know we’re probably a challenging client,” Jorgensen said. “We will set a general vision and a hard and fast timeline, but we still want flexibility in there as we go, as additional monies are raised, as additional items are designed.”
“Their approach is, ‘Here’s what we want to do; how can we accomplish it?’ Jamie outlines his vision, it is clear, and it doesn’t change,’” McCormick said. “When you start out on that basis, you can accomplish a lot. We have accomplished a lot. So we don’t mind being challenged; the most challenging projects are the most fun in the end.
“Jamie has pushed, but he’s pushed within reasonable boundaries,” McCormick added. “He realizes it isn’t all about athletics – that it has to benefit the whole university. I know I have peers around the country whose athletics departments don’t think that way, but here we’ve found win-win opportunities that have been very beneficial.”
The renovations to the Jack Trice concourses and the creation of the Cyclone Sports Complex, Hixson-Lied Academic Center, Sukup Basketball Complex, and Bergstrom Football Complex are among the major accomplishments of Pollard’s tenure, but ISU has also hung its hat on the ability to maximize efficiency in its facilities. While the excavators were clanging at Jack Trice, the athletics department quietly repurposed the Olsen Building to create a new weight room and locker rooms for several Olympic sports and transformed the old football offices in the Jacobson Building into the multiuse “Heartland Hall” facility. Jorgensen says these facilities are tremendous assets for the athletics department, even if they don’t get much publicity.
But as for September 2015, all eyes are on ISU’s football stadium, which is now the third-largest in the Big 12 Conference with a capacity of 61,000.
“Jack Trice Stadium has always been, in my estimation, a sensational venue,” head football coach Paul Rhoads (A) said. “It’s loud. The fans are on top of you. And now we’re bowling in the south endzone, and I think it will be even more exciting and the decibel level taken up several more notches.”
McCormick and Jorgensen say the Sukup Endzone Club is a fabulous amenity, but they agree with Rhoads that the project will transform the gameday experience for all fans – and football players.
“There will be the ribbon board, the new video board, additional restroom facilities, and an elevator for the mobility impaired that will reduce golf cart traffic,” Jorgensen said. “But it’s also just the overall acoustics and aesthetics of the south end.”
“The project has generated so much excitement in the community,” McCormick said. “It’s a transformation of the image of the stadium.”
On to the next file folder.