Razing, then raising, Reser

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Razing, then raising, Reser

The time-lapse video of the Reser stadium renovation, accessible on Oregon State’s website, begins on Dec. 14, 2021. Each day flashes by in about 1 ¼ seconds, all the way to the present. At 27 seconds in, the stands simply disappear — the aftermath of 200 pounds of explosives set off early on Jan. 7, 2022. Days turn to weeks turn to months. Seasons change. Trees leaf out, change colors, and go bare again. Calm days, windy days, rainy days, sunny days. Huge, extendable cranes and earthmovers enter the stage. Through two winters, fierce winds flail at protective plastic sheets. Snow lingers and melts. Shadows nod down and across on long summer days. 

A big American flag appears and reappears in different places. All the while, the new stadium — the west stands, specifically — grows from a pile of rubble. First, the two concrete core towers, which will contain elevators and stairs, rise up. Concrete walls and foundations snap into place. Concrete risers for the lower seats pop into sight. Mammoth steel beams lock together, and you start to see the distinct and recognizable shape — one level, two, three, and on up. The expansive canopy roof takes shape to protect all that’s below. The hive of the press area and sky boxes burst into existence. Seats stack up like dominoes. And then it’s just done, ready to host tens of thousands of fans at the Beavers’ first home game on Sept. 9, 2023. Turning the wreckage of the timeworn stands into a world-class stadium takes just 12 minutes and 40 seconds.

But of course, it didn’t. From the day the camera started rolling, 634 days elapsed until game day, representing untold hours of work by hundreds of individuals representing numerous professions and trades. Among them are six College of Engineering alumni who work for Hoffman Construction, the project’s general contractor.

Below, each of them describes what it’s been like to be a part of such a high-profile project at their alma mater.

Portrait of Tyler Brown
Tyler Brown

B.S. construction engineering management ’19
Project engineer

My responsibilities include overseeing subcontractors who install roofing, interior framing, ceilings, handrails, guardrails, traffic coatings, seating, fences and gates, and a handful of other things. Essentially, I’m ensuring the subcontractors are installing per the contractual documents and problem-solving issues as they come up, either with the design team, the owners’ representative, and our team here on-site. There’s no such thing as an average day. That’s why it’s exciting and stressful all at the same time.

There are actually four roofs. There’s the big canopy over the press level and three others that are visible from the field and not as exposed, like the one over the club level. They all require the same assembly as a typical roof. Finishing those roofs during the winter was hard because we faced forces completely beyond our control in a winter that never seemed to end. You can’t let water get underneath any roofing system during construction. It kept me up at night, and it was a big relief when we got it done.

I started college a little later than most people. I took time off and went out into the world, so I knew exactly what I wanted to do in my career when I went to Oregon State, which was to work with a large general contractor who builds amazing projects throughout the Northwest and beyond. My older brother is an electrical engineer, and he also went to Oregon State. We’re the first ones in our family to graduate college. I’ve always been a big football fan, but I’m from Eugene, so I was born and raised a Ducks fan until I went to Oregon State and became a platypus.

School obviously can’t prepare you for everything, but the program here gave me what I needed. A lot of the class content pertained to what I’m actually doing in the field, whether it’s estimating, doing some structural engineering, learning about concrete, mixed designs, shoring, or whatever it was. Then you graduate and you’re thrown in with the wolves and you feel like you don’t have a clue. But the College of Engineering prepared me as much as possible for the real thing. I’m truly blessed to have been part of Oregon State.

Portrait of Nima Darabi
Nima Darabi

B.S. civil engineering ’01
Vice president

My family and I emigrated to the U.S. about 33 years ago. During my Oregon State graduation ceremony, my parents proudly watched me receive my diploma from the west bleachers of Reser — the ones that were imploded. That’s a big reason why being a part of this project means so much to me.

I remember getting the email saying that Hoffman had won the project. I nearly fell out of my chair because I was so excited. It seemed unreal. But it was also March 2020. Everything was shutting down because of the pandemic. We were concerned that the project would be stopped, because a lot of construction projects were being put on hold. But Scott Barnes, the athletic director, assured us that we would keep going. We worked through a lot of obstacles that hit all at once, like high inflation, material shortages, and supply chain problems, and of course the pandemic itself. It’s amazing how this team came together, locked arms, and worked through it all.

When I was a young project engineer, I got assigned to do my first high-rise in downtown Portland. I was a little nervous — wow, a big building rising up from the ground! But you quickly realize that — and this is oversimplifying things — that everything repeats itself and you just keep going up. But a stadium is different. Each one is unique. It’s full of angles and complexities. You put up the structural steel, then you have to put a canopy on top of it. All of the internal spaces are different. You always have to think about strategies to mitigate water. There’s nothing repetitive and that’s what makes it fun. Added to that was having to build it while football games were being played.

I remember one beautiful sunny day recently. I was walking around the Reser Stadium site by myself, and I just had to pause and recognize that this huge structure was built by the craft workers, by their hands — every brick, every piece of steel — their hands and minds and hearts. They put it all together. That’s incredible!

Left to right: Nevan Huddleston, George Kapellakis, Tyler Brown
Left to right: Nevan Huddleston, George Kapellakis, Tyler Brown
Nevan Huddleston

B.S. construction engineering management ’11
Assistant project manager

A central focus of my position is to manage the day-to-day financial health of the project. On any construction project, especially one this significant, there are going to be challenges and design changes along the way. Understanding and assisting to mitigate impacts from those challenges is key for Oregon State and the subcontractors on the project. Mentoring newer team members as well as our trade partners is another important part of the job.

One big challenge early on was actually receiving the site switchgear, which is critical electrical equipment that allows utility power to be safely brought to the site and then distributed. Because of supply-chain disruptions, we were facing more than a one-year lead time to procure it. Our electrical trade partner contracted with a specialty company to build custom switchgear, and that cut the lead time to just six months. After that, I could sleep a little better.

I went into construction engineering management because it allowed me to dive into so many different aspects of construction. That variety appealed to me, and it’s held true in my career.

I’ve worked on projects as diverse as a PDX airport baggage handling system replacement, a municipal headquarters building and campus, and a 13-million-gallon underground, seismically resilient water reservoir. Now, to come back and support Oregon State by completing a football stadium as well as a student wellness clinic, really has been fulfilling.

Working with the athletics department and seeing everything that they do has just been phenomenal. They’ve been an integral team member for the duration of the project, and it’s been a wonderful group to work with. They treat each item as a critical objective, so as we work through minor challenges or hefty decisions, they always come through on time and with success in mind.

Getting closer to the end, I can relax a little mentally, but the day-to-day momentum and effort continues until the very end. I think we’re going to land this beast on time. I’m positive we are. We’re going to close out strong.

Portrait of Hannah Jenkins in work uniform
Hannah Jenkins

B.S. civil engineering ’15
Lead project engineer

It’s special being an alum working on this project. My parents and my grandparents are alumni, and they visited the site several times. A lot of kids and other spectators come up to the fence to see how it’s going. It’s always a good thing when a community is interested.

One of my roles is to pass on the lessons I’ve learned from my previous work to other engineers so we can be a successful team. I also want to instill everyone with a sense of urgency. 

That’s the most important thing as a project engineer — a sense of urgency and solving problems quickly. After all, we’re professional problem-solvers.

I was responsible for coordinating the implosion, which was one of my favorite parts of the project. It was a high-risk activity, and we took every possible safety precaution. Afterwards, a volunteer canine search-and-rescue group used the rubble for disaster relief training.

We’ve struggled a lot out here with the weather because winter and spring were so cold and rainy. It kept us from painting exterior steel and applying traffic coatings on floors. We built a lot of tents to keep the weather out, but the wind just tore them to shreds. Once we finally got some good weather, we started cruising and breathed a big sigh of relief.

Technically, I’m not doing any civil engineering design, but because of my degree and background, I have a solid understanding of how to build the things I learned how to engineer in school. My classes in statics and dynamics have given me an understanding of the forces involved in the construction. Being able to appreciate the “why” behind a lot of decisions has been very helpful for doing my job.

For the most part, I’ve had a great experience as a woman [in a profession dominated by men]. That may not be true for everybody, but I think it depends on your role and the company you work for. Working in the field is definitely different. It’s fast-paced. You wake up early, stay up late, and everyone is working toward the mutual goal of crossing the finish line together.

Portrait of George Kapellakis
George Kapellakis

B.S. construction engineering management ’21
Project engineer

When I reached the engineering curriculum in school, I turned my passion for building toward my career goal, which was to work for a world-class builder, and Hoffman is a world-class builder. The College of Engineering is a good path for entering that world. My final year was during COVID. I’d done an internship with Hoffman the previous summer, but because school was all online, the company let me continue the internship, in Portland, through the entire academic year.

I’m responsible for managing the building exterior — the metal panels, the windows, the exterior framing, the weather barriers, and the brick on the two towers. I’m also coordinating installation of all the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire suppression systems.

A lot of my family went to Oregon State. I went to Beavers games as a little kid. It’s a big part of my family, so being on this project is a huge deal for me. My dad and my uncle were mechanical engineers, and both got their undergraduate degrees here. Being able to give my parents a tour of the site was something special, too. Years from now, when I have children of my own, I’ll be able to show my family what I accomplished.

College of Engineering teachers want students to succeed. Many of them are professionals in the industry, and they would really take time to connect with each student and bring their expertise and experiences into the classroom. The curriculum set me up to understand how to look at problems and work through them logically. I think that’s a huge part of preparing to be a professional.

Thank you to all the professors at Oregon State University in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering. Lastly, thank you to my parents for everything they have done in supporting me to get where I am today. I am truly grateful to be an Oregon State Beaver alum!

Portrait of Mark Rado
Mark Rado

B.S. civil engineering ’01
Project superintendent

My main responsibilities are ensuring the health and safety of everyone on-site and maintaining the project schedule. Coming back to work on campus felt a little strange. I never thought I’d be back for a project, let alone for the stadium. It was surreal and exciting at the same time.

The weather had a huge impact. There are certain products that can only be installed when exterior conditions are just right, and trying to get some of those in last winter was just not possible. We put up many tents and plastic tarps. We set up heaters in temporarily sheltered areas, but the wind ripped a lot of that apart multiple times no matter what we did.

One memorable challenge was installing the four escalators. Usually, you sequence escalator installation before finishing the structural steel, otherwise you block overhead access to where the escalators need to go. But we couldn’t avoid that, because the escalators were delivered late in the project due to supply chain issues. Our elevator contractor used chain hoists and trolleys to slide these huge components sideways and around odd angles to fit into their final pockets. Visitors will just see an escalator, but they’ll never know how much work it took to get it there.

Before demolition, Hoffman engineers went through the entire structure with a crew from the demolition company to supervise exactly where they needed to cut into the structural elements. The cuts had to be on the correct side and be just the right amount. We didn’t want to come back the next morning and find the old stadium lying in the parking lot.

The implosion is just something you’re not prepared for, no matter how much discussion and review and safety talks you have ahead of time. Right before the implosion, you’re nervous and excited at the same time, and then it was all over in a flash.

Oregon State really gave me a solid base for understanding engineering. Once I was in the workforce, what I had learned helped me to be productive and efficient and to follow through on tasks. This university provided me with an excellent starting point for working in the construction industry.

Photos by
Owen Roth

Story by
Steve Frandzel

October 11, 2023