Centennial Plaza in Canton, Ohio, built to honor the city’s connection to the National Football League (NFL), was scheduled to be dedicated in Sept. 17, 2020. Canton, where the NFL was launched in 1920, is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The $12.3 million project includes a football-shaped green surrounded by trees, an outdoor amphitheater, stages and a restaurant with a circular opening in its roof to collect light. Movies and small concerts are planned for the space. The architect was MKSK Studios, an Ohio landscape architecture, urban planning and design firm. Dunlop and Johnston, Valley City, Ohio, was the general contractor on the job. Construction costs were covered by the city from various sources, including income tax revenue, a state grant and private donations, according to The Repository, the city’s local newspaper.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL Centennial Celebration and the grand opening of the plaza were postponed, and programming through the fall that would attract gatherings greater than 10 people was canceled.
“Local government must be the leader in the fight against the spread of COVID-19,” Mayor Thomas M. Bernabei said in a press release. “As much as the City of Canton wants to publicly celebrate the centennial and the opening of our $12 million, spectacular Centennial Plaza, our responsibility to the public regarding safety and health protocols dictates that we forego any public or private celebration.”
The city looks forward to lifting health restrictions, the end or fuller control of the pandemic and celebrating both the opening of the plaza and the centennial founding of the NFL in August 2021, according to the press release.
With restrictions in place on how many people can gather, the city originally considered a smaller, private event to recognize donors.
“But that would mean excluding the public, and this is a public space paid for by taxpayer dollars,” said Donn Angus, director of planning for the City of Canton and project manager of Centennial Plaza. “That wasn’t the way we wanted it to occur, so we canceled it.”
A virtual grand opening event took place on Sept. 17, celebrating the NFL’s 100th year. At halftime of the Cleveland Browns‑Cincinnati Bengals game, C. David Baker, president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, unveiled 11 pylons honoring the almost 26,000 people who competed in the NFL during its first century.
The city is planning to display messages on the plaza’s jumbotron from the mayor about the plaza’s origin, design and development to serve as a thank-you to the community for making it possible.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, electrical and construction trades have been deemed essential. While working on the project, Hilscher-Clarke Electric Co. in Canton has not experienced any cases of the coronavirus among its workers.
Hilscher-Clarke is “really excited to be a part of the Centennial Park project,” said project manager Patrick Johnson. “We like to give back to the community; we’re a staple there.”
Michael Hann, the Canton branch manager at Hilscher-Clarke, agreed. The electrical contractor has worked there for more than 100 years.
“This is our home, this is our main office,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of something that is uniquely Canton, like the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Strict safety procedures enabled the company to keep contractors on various sites and employees across several offices safe.
“We have policies in case anyone tests positive and didn’t slow down our pace,” said Hilscher-Clarke’s vice president and COO, John Fether.
“From a safety standpoint, we’ve been pretty fortunate with that site,” said Stephanie Breitmeier, Hilscher-Clarke’s corporate safety manager. “It’s difficult to maintain social distancing in the work that we’re doing.”
Because the Centennial Plaza project was outdoors, it allowed for more physical distance, Hann explained. He said it’s been helpful not having to be in elevators or other confined spaces. In buildings and indoor sites, he said these social-distancing measures have a much larger impact.
“It’s reduced the impact that COVID had on the project,” Hann said. “We’re doing another project down the street in a hotel and it’s congested, the rooms are small and we’re using elevators. Since you can’t have multiple people in an elevator, we send the material up and others walk up the steps.”
Hilscher-Clarke’s safety team quickly wrote policies on how to proceed if anyone tested positive, if people needed to quarantine and how to maintain safety on-site. Employees must answer a questionnaire asking about symptoms, temperatures are checked at home, face coverings are required, shift work and lunch times are staggered, and handwashing stations have been brought in. When a job requires working in close proximity, workers wear N95 respirators. Breitmeier, two field safety managers and the purchasing group work to ensure job sites have sufficient hand sanitizer, masks and other PPE.
“Our purchasing department did a great job helping us find what we needed so we could keep working as an essential business,” Breitmeier said. “It was a tremendous group effort to be able to keep our field guys working in the safest way possible, especially back when there were shortages.”
The lead time for some materials increased drastically when factories were forced to shut down due to coronavirus outbreaks and workers were furloughed or chose not to come in to stay safe, Johnson explained.
“We had to find different vendors for certain items we needed for Centennial Plaza,” he said. “We’ve told our managers to get orders in early, because things are very inconsistent right now.”
Hilscher-Clarke has coordinated safety measures with other general contractors.
“It helps having an established relationship to work through this openly,” Breitmeier said. “We’re comfortable being open and honest with each other about what our concerns are—safety, contact tracing or others.”
Overall job management was also rethought, especially for situations with multiple trades from different contractors working at the same time. Hilscher-Clarke redirected or limited certain work temporarily until there could be less congestion.
The increased safety protocols did have a negative impact on productivity, according to Hann.
“We’re used to the old productivity levels, but that’s obviously what we have to do in these times,” he said. “We’re doing our best to modify our practices in terms of the new restrictions.”
“Our guys are used to following the normal safety procedures; sometimes it’s stressful for them having all of these different safety measures implemented due to the pandemic,” Breitmeier said. “But everybody knows we’ve got to do these things so we can keep working and meet deadlines for our customers.”
Hilscher-Clarke uses various communication methods to keep workers informed of new and required safety procedures, including YouTube videos, email, printed handouts and face-to-face communication with field safety managers.
“I wanted to make sure that we had a united presence and consistent message,” Breitmeier said.
Keeping safety procedures updated throughout the pandemic has proven challenging.
“It’s been changing daily,” Breitmeier said. “For a little while, earlier on, it was almost changing hourly.”
She found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and Ohio Department of Health provide the best sources of information.
“It was a struggle at times,” Breitmeier admitted. “No sooner had I gotten something implemented than I needed to make a change.”
But she touted the safety team and the entire staff’s understanding that safety is the company’s top priority right now.
Canton will host virtual tours of the plaza on social media, according to the press release. Members of the public are encouraged to use and enjoy the Plaza in a safe, socially distant manner.