Home of the Braves

When the Rome Braves play ball at home and the games stretch into nightfall, the lights are turned on-lights that rival those in the major leagues. That is a matter of some pride for Atlanta electrical contractor Allison-Smith, which provided not only the lighting but also the sound system for a unique riverside field.

The Rome/Floyd County State Mutual Stadium was initiated by the relocation of the minor-league Braves, a Class A farm team of the Atlanta Braves, to Rome, Ga. Previously the team's home was in Macon, Ga., in an aging and inadequate stadium. When the team needed a new home, the owner found it in Rome, located on a muddy field near the Oostenaula River, a large waterway formed at the confluence of the Conasauga and Coosawattee rivers.

H&M Construction from Jackson, Tenn., served as the general contractor, in part because H&M has built similar facilities. Design architect Brisbin Brook Benyon of Toronto teamed up with engineering firm Mulvey & Banani International Inc., also of Toronto. Mulvey & Banani provided the written narrative and sketches H&M used to select an electrical contractor. The narrative, intended to aid Allison-Smith, proved to be vague, so the contractor had to make many assumptions before bidding on the job.

“It was a design criteria, not a design,” said Allison-Smith president Lanny Thomas.

Allison-Smith was awarded the project on a design-build basis. The plan included the stadium and clubhouse lighting, and fire alarm and power-distribution systems. In the end, Allison-Smith had to step up to the bat for other low-voltage needs as well. By the time of the project's completion, Allison-Smith had designed and installed both a Category 5e low-voltage network including copper and fiber, and the sound system for the stadium.

“The project ultimately required all of our design talents,” Thomas said. “We also were asked to design and install a video-distribution system that provided cable television to the Braves offices and the private suites.”

Allison-Smith entered the project one morning in late July 2003, when the company's Build Superintendent Robert Hilde-brand cut a vacation short to attend the Braves construction project meeting. By noon, Allison-Smith had earned the contract and work was ready to begin.

“They were pouring the concrete for the visitor dugout the next day,” Hildebrand said.

The Allison-Smith team went for an on-site interview to discuss their proposal with H&M.

“When we walked out of the trailer, Larry Watson, senior project manager for H&M, pointed to the job site and said, 'start work,'” Thomas said. “With no design documents, our field had to do some quick work to outrun the footings, which were in progress.”

The job initially bid at $1.3 million, but with the addition of low-voltage work and the sound system, it ultimately cost $1.8 million.

“The project presented the most difficult challenge we face as an electrical contractor,” said Thomas, “a competitively bid project with a guaranteed price and no design from which to do an estimate.”

To overcome this, Allison-Smith had to use its design abilities to manufacture an estimate. Then, at a later date, it put together the final design to meet that budget. The very aggressive schedule made the entire project much more challenging for all contractors involved. By spring, the Braves hoped to be playing ball in their own stadium. With the general contractor already underway when Allison Smith arrived, the entire project took only eight months, including the design phase.

Robert Hildebrand completed the design work and served as the project's design-build engineer. Although the job began in August, when thermometers recorded 103 degrees in the shade, he remembers the project as “cold and wet,” dropping to 7 degrees at least once. The majority of the time the weather-related hazard was rain, which turned the construction site into a muddy soup. Due to an unseasonably rainy winter, men were often working in pools of mud. In addition, the 30-foot deep and 5-foot diameter concrete bases for the sports lighting poles were built below the water table.

“It rained a lot. When we started, we had a nice gravel parking lot. By the end it was extremely goopy. While the final design produced a baseball park, the construction period mostly resembled a water park,” Thomas said.

Much of the early work was spent in trenches, digging in conduits for the needs of the stadium and the various vendors. According to Hildebrand, the whole job involved a lot of ditch work. He and two journeymen, accompanied by apprentices new to the work, laid conduits on speculated energy demands.

“That made it difficult, we had a lot of new people,” he said, adding that obtaining equipment was not always easy in Rome, which was less likely to have equipment vendors nearby than in metropolitan areas like Atlanta.

“Getting PVCs to the job was hard because we were so far out,” he said.

Because it was a design-build contract, much of the work, Hildebrand said, required the ability to “figure it out as we went.” They had involvement from all the parties, including Michael Dunn, Rome Braves general manager, who at Christmas provided hot dogs to the electricians.

For the sound system, Allison-Smith ran all the conduit, and the audio company did the terminating of the ends.

On this project, one of the electrical contractor's challenges was getting the required load information from the other subcontractors who were also still developing their documents. With the majority of the conduit being installed underground and most of the underground being completed well before decisions were made, the electrical contractor was forced to make provisions for many unknown loads and low-voltage systems.

While different parties tried to determine what they were doing with spaces such as the kitchen or the sound system, Allison-Smith had to have the conduit laid. Often the electrical contractor was forced to guess just how much power would be needed for different portions of the stadium.

“All the conduit needed to be put in in August, and we still weren't sure what they wanted,” Thomas said.

Hildebrand added that, toward the end, they dealt with a lot of vendor changes. Keeping track of sign changes kept about half the crew busy with last-minute alterations, while the rest was getting ready for the first game.

When the project was finished, there were four 100-foot light poles, 164 light fixtures, two 125-foot poles and two 165-foot poles in the front of the stadium. Twenty-five Allison-Smith electricians had been involved throughout the project, with 50 during the peak. Nearly all had put in six-day, and eventually, seven-day weeks. The greatest reward for Hildebrand was seeing the completed stadium lighted up. Hildebrand wanted more than just an adequate job-but a high-end one.

“The end product turned out beautiful,” he said. “The thing I will remember most is trying to give a high-end finish.”

They installed enough lighting in the stadium to accommodate television, which meant eight poles, 160 fixtures and 100 foot candles in the infield and 70 foot candles for the outfield.

The stadium seats more than 5,000 fans and also includes 14 luxury boxes, state-of-the-art audiovisual technology, a full-service restaurant, six concession areas and group pavilion. By the time the Braves played their first game in their new stadium against the Savannah Sand Gnats on April 11, the stadium was fully functioning. The Braves won.

Work at the stadium never stops completely. During the first season around 9 p.m., stadium management had reason to panic when one of the lights wasn't functioning. “At dusk we received a call that one of the left field light poles was not operational, and the Braves were midway into a game,” Thomas said.

The Rome stadium was located 60 miles and an-hour-and-a-half away from Allison-Smith's Atlanta office. Calls went out and located one of the company's electricians on a farm not far from the stadium. Thomas said he was fortunate the technician had his cell phone with him.

“Within 30 minutes, the lights were on and [with Rome] being a small town, nobody minded the golden retriever and the chocolate lab assisting in the service call,” Thomas said.

Some of the Atlanta Braves players have completed rehabilitation assignments in Rome. They were reported saying that the toughest adjustment would be with the lighting at Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. The sports lighting, according to the players, is better in Rome. EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.


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