LINCOLN — Every morning, construction workers park in downtown Lincoln and begin about a half-mile trek around the edge of downtown to get to their work site: a 16,000-seat arena they’re building in a rail yard west of the historic Haymarket District.
Before entering the arena, they’re greeted with a huge sign reminding them to look both ways. That’s because in order to get to their job site, they have to cross railroad tracks. With trains. Every day, about 50 trains rumble by both sides of the construction site as Lincoln’s new arena slowly comes out of the ground.
It’s just one of many signs that this is no ordinary construction site.
Lincoln’s arena is being built from the inside out because it’s shoehorned between two active railroad lines, rattling the construction zone every time a train goes by. Fortunately for the workers, Lincoln recently created a “quiet zone” through the area so the trains don’t have to blow their horns at every crossing anymore, unless someone is in the way.
John Hinshaw, Mortenson Construction’s senior project manager for construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena, says of the four arena projects he’s worked on, this is definitely one of the most challenging because the city of Lincoln doesn’t yet own the railroad land on the east and west sides. So his workers have been building from the inside out – they call it “inside of the doughnut” – for the past nine months.
Designers had to figure out a way to build the arena in two phases, within tight parameters, with the bowl built first. There’s no room for a staging area, so construction materials must be delivered as needed. Most job sites have multiple access points, but this only has one, so all deliveries must be scheduled. And then there’s always the chance then when the deliveries arrive, a train will be parked across the access road.
Up to 30 concrete trucks per day sometimes have to wait a long time to cross the railroad tracks — sometimes so long that the concrete has hardened and has to be returned. Construction workers are building the bowl of the arena – all of it concrete – and can’t finish all of the outer edge of the arena until the trains are rerouted and tracks removed.
New railroad tracks have been built farther west, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe has to switch the trains over by September, although they could go as early as July. That gives Mortenson about a year to finish the arena, which will be the home of University of Nebraska-Lincoln basketball teams beginning in the fall of 2013. Hinshaw said despite the unusual nature of construction, it will be done on time.
Mortenson Construction of Minneapolis has dealt with similarly constricting environs before: It built th Minnesota Twins ballpark was built over a railway and interstate highway and sandwiched between two streets in downtown Minneapolis. Despite those challenges, Mortenson finished the stadium two months early.
The concrete frame on Lincoln’s arena is about 30 percent done, and last week workers began installing structural steel in the exit stairway on the southwest side of the building – although workers still can’t get to most of the places where the steel needs to go.
Right now, the inside of the arena has the feel of a Roman coliseum — it’s a mass of gray concrete columns and concrete, with construction workers crawling around its nooks and crannies. At the height of construction, about 600 workers will be on site.
The main hiccup so far has been the discovery of faulty rebar – it was not bent to the proper radius — in about half of the 52 pilings. Construction was halted for about a week in December after several pieces of the reinforcing steel broke during installation. Those pile caps were reinforced rather than removed.
Hinshaw is the conductor coordinating 110 subcontractors and 389 workers so far. He begins each work day with a daily 6 a.m. meeting of about 40 foremen, superintendents and project engineers.
He is one of a handful of nomadic arena-builders who go where the project is: He has a wife and three children, the last one born in Lincoln six months ago.
Another arena nomad is Paula Yancey, program manager for the overall development. Lincoln’s arena is the fifth she’s coordinated. The Idaho native got her start coordinating the construction of sports arenas in San Antonio 20 years ago, when she was working on contract administration, marketing and information technology. The Spurs were building a new arena, and she got on the project team.
She works for Project Control in its sports division, PC Sports, which provides project management for these kinds of endeavors. The basketball fan now oversees the construction of basketball arenas – making her home wherever the job is.
“I left the comfort of a job site trailer and I’ve been doing sports (venues) around the country ever since,” she said.
Reported by Deena Winter, [email protected]
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