Moving fast: Work begins on State Farm Center renovation

Moving fast: Work begins on State Farm Center renovation

CHAMPAIGN — It was 1978 and Tom Grunloh and his fellow bulldogs from St. Anthony High School in Effingham won a spot in the state basketball tournament at the Assembly Hall.

"I ran out on the floor and I couldn't look up it was so big," Grunloh said.

Thirty-six years later, the Effingham native and his construction company have a hand in reshaping the look of the iconic building that for decades has hosted sports tournaments, concerts, convocations and other events.

"To be a part of this renovation is pretty incredible," he said.

After years of discussion (build a new arena or renovate the old?), planning and fundraising (still going strong), the Assembly Hall (er, State Farm Center) is finally getting its face-lift.

With a majority of construction contracts now signed and a bond sale recently concluded, the "Illinois Renaissance," otherwise known as the $165 million renovation and addition of the State Farm Center, is now truly underway.

Contractors have wasted no time getting to work on the renovation. Not long after fans and players exited the building Tuesday evening, crews made their way through, clearing out everything from framed team pictures that hung on the wall to the court floor. (No word on what the new floor will look like; the campus is selling naming rights and is still in the process of rebranding its logos.)

Next up: pulling out existing ventwork throughout the building, demolishing ramps on the south side of the building and starting on the new east and west entrances.

The fancy new clubs and suites, with their padded chairs and cupholders, will not debut this November (that phase doesn't start until 2015), but basketball fans do have some things to look forward to later this year when the current renovation phase comes to an end.

Phased renovation

Overseeing the massive project is the architectural firm AECOM of Los Angeles and Turner Construction Management of Chicago, not to mention the university's capital projects office and numerous contractors.

Over in the Illinois athletic department office, the point person is Tom Michael, a senior associate athletic director who was a four-year regular on the men's basketball team from 1991 to 1994. As a former player, what's exciting to him is "just knowing the facility we have now and how we're going to improve it ... from a basketball facility standpoint and what it will do for our program and how it will bring energy and a new look to what our basketball programs can do."

To accommodate that basketball program, officials decided to schedule the renovation around the teams' playing schedules.

Doing it this way has extended the construction timeline and it's made things "a little more complicated, but that's something we're working through," Michael said.

It's been done before. The University of Michigan remodeled its Crisler Arena in phases as did UCLA with its Pauley Pavilion.

The State Farm Center project has six different stages, with phases essentially broken up by basketball season and non-basketball season. Earlier this week contractors wrapped up phase one, which entailed, for the most part, preparation work for updating utilities, like water lines, outside the actual building.

Eight months and counting

Phase two started after the men's basketball game concluded Tuesday. This current phase runs until the start of the 2014-15 basketball season in November. A lot of what will go on between now and then is behind-the-scenes kind of stuff.

The mechanical spaces will move from the north and south ends to new spaces on the east and west sides. Electrical substations will also be upgraded, Michael said.

A&R Mechanical of Urbana, another one of the Illinois firms that had winning construction bids, will build four big "quadrants" that will house the new mechanical systems required to cool the entire facility, said Bill Walters, operations director with A&R. The company will focus on plumbing, heating and ventilation work.

State Farm Center, Waters said, is "a high-profile, showcase project."

A&R has worked on the National Petascale Computing Facility on South Oak Street that houses the Blue Waters supercomputer and the $116 million Memorial Stadium renovation back in 2007.

"This is, for our company, having people that not only attended the U of I also be able to work on it day in and day out and who are fans ... is exciting," Waters said.

On Tuesday he took his three-month old baby, decked out in blue and orange, to the last game.

Hopefully by the time the building reopens for next season, "we'll be able to see some more wins," Waters said.

While A&R focuses on the mechanical rooms, in the coming months Grunloh will be building two new, huge basements, one on the east side and one on the west side of the center.

Although most of the early work involves demolition or mechanical work, come November visitors will see a few shiny new things.

— New seats in the C-section — they'll likely be blue and carry a logo.

— A repainted court floor.

— Fewer vomitories. (That's the name for the entrances and exits into the bowl or seating area. Some of those areas will be filled in and new seats added.)

— The exterior work on the south entrance should be done, Grunloh said. The new, grander east and west entrances won't be completely done by November, but they'll be on their way.

They won't be finished but they will be safe and fans will enter and exit through them in November, Michael said.

Eventually visitors who enter the west side will walk into a large rotunda, with a skylight and the hall of fame nearby, according to Grunloh. The east side, which he described as having more of an upscale feel, is where the Traditions Club, a private lounge, will be.

Seats, scoreboard, etc.

Over the next few months those grey seats in the C-section will be removed. It's possible you could buy some to outfit your garage or basement.

"We're trying to work with the university and state of Illinois to provide an opportunity for those seats to be bought in pairs. That process has not been completed yet," Michael said.

All C-section seats will be replaced with blue seats, which "will hopefully add some color to the building," he said.

More details on what the seats will look like — if they will have, for example, a Block I logo or another UI mark — are still being discussed. The campus is working with Nike on rebranding its trademarks and once that process wraps up in April, Michael said he expects to have more information on what specifically the C-section seats will look like.

As for fans possibly buying any former lockers, that's still undecided. The new locker rooms won't be installed until the last phase of the project, so the teams have a couple more years of use out of those. And whether the lockers will be sold or reused by another department is still under discussion, Michael said.

As for the timing of adding new concessions and bathrooms, that is "fluid," Michael said, meaning they will be built at different phases throughout the renovation.

The new scoreboard and "ribbon" boards which will be placed throughout the bowl will not be installed until the final phase.

Looking ahead

Phase three will include all work done during the 2014-15 basketball season. And you can bet that if there's a time when there are no men's and women's basketball games within a stretch of a week, contractors will be in the building working, Michael said.

About a year from now through the end of November 2015 — "that is when it really gets torn up inside," Grunloh said.

During that phase the entire A section of the bowl will be removed and the lower portion of the bowl area will be reconfigured. That's also when the B section, where the suites are planned, will be demolished and when the new offices and lounges will be built.

What if?

There are contingency plans if things don't go as planned. Illinois athletic staff have talked about where the teams would play if something happened and the teams couldn't play in the arena come November.

"We don't want to say we're not paying attention to that. We certainly are, but it's every intention of the construction manager and our expectations are that the project and the building will be functional and we will have basketball games" for the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 seasons, Michael said.

"We've expressed those expectations to everyone involved in the project," he added.


A webcam will be installed soon so people far and wide can watch progress.

"A lot of people have gone through that building in last 50 years and have an interest in it," Michael said.

The project — by the numbers

Total budget: $165 million

Total cost of project, including interest, per recent bond sale: $275 million to $285 million

Total amount of contracts (architect, construction manager, construction contractors, etc.) awarded so far: $133 million

Amount raised so far in donations: $95 million

Annual amount expected to be raised by the $50 annual student fee, approved by referendum: $2.1 million

Annual amount expected to be raised by ticket surcharges and Big Ten Network revenue: $1.2 million

Highlights of the renovation

By November 2014: mechanical rooms, basements built; new C-section seats and newly painted court floor

Starting March 2015: A-section removed, suites built in B-section; "premium" seating like courtside seats and loges and clubs done by December 2015

Ongoing: New "grand" entrances on the east and west sides; space expansion by removing exterior wall with new glass wall installed; new bathrooms, concession spaces

Toward the end: Locker rooms, scoreboards, ribbon boards

All about A&R

A&R Mechanical is one of the many contractors hired by the University of Illinois to work on the State Farm Center renovation. Here's more about the company:

Location: Kettering Park Drive, Urbana

Founded: 1925

What they do: plumbing, heating, ventilation

Some of their other projects: Memorial Stadium renovation, National Petascale Computing Facility home to Blue Waters supercomputer, Carle Foundation Hospital expansion

Approximate value of work on their work on the State Farm Center renovation: $24 million

Approximate number of workers involved: 40 to 50 plumbers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers and other tradespeople




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