EL PASO, TEXAS – April 30, 2014 – Amazing. There's a brand new AAA ballpark in downtown El Paso. Hard to believe, but just over a year ago, El Paso City Hall sat on the same site next to the Convention Center. Then on April 14th, 2013, City Hall was dramatically imploded and over the next six weeks all of the debris was hauled off and the site was prepared for construction of the new ballpark.
Now, on Monday night, April 28th, the El Paso Chihuahuas play their debut game at this brand new, fully functional ballpark. And a new era of professional baseball begins.
There's the story of how the Pacific Coast League AAA franchise came to town, the naming of the team and many more. But this is the story of how a state-of-the-art AAA ballpark was built in a record-setting 11 months.
CF Jordan Construction, headquartered here in town, has been building El Paso since 1969, working extensively at the University of Texas at El Paso, and building new industrial facilities, high schools and offices, and renovating historic landmarks. Hunt Construction Group has been building sports facilities since 1970 when it laid the cornerstone at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, and more recently Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Marlins Park in Miami. To build the newly named Southwest University Park, CF Jordan and Hunt joined forces and put together an impressive construction schedule to enable Monday night's debut to happen.
First, a little perspective. Huntington Park, Columbus' AAA facility for the Clippers, took 20 months to build. Fifth Third Field for the Toledo Mud Hens took 19 months to build. And Allentown's Coca-Cola Park, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, took 19 months to construct.
What CF Jordan/Hunt has accomplished sets an unofficial record for the quickest completion of a Triple A ballpark - just 11 months.
Paul Bauer, Executive Vice President of CF Jordan's Commercial Operations in El Paso for the past 22 years, sums it up well. "We know El Paso. We have a great team on the project. Our Infrastructure & Concrete Division is the best in the business. And we have great relationships with the best subcontractors in the region. Hunt brought their premier ballpark expertise to the project and we meshed well to make this a success."
Bauer was quick to point out that the City of El Paso was also instrumental in achieving a record-setting schedule. "Tom Maguire is Chief Building Inspector, City Development Department, and he was on site full-time. Without that, we couldn't have done it. The City was also great in coordinating underground utilities and right-of-way issues with Union Pacific Railroad."
Not only did CF Jordan/Hunt set the record for fastest schedule for a AAA ballpark, they also built it on the tightest site ever for this type of sports facility. With that, came a whole new set of challenges. Staging had to be done offsite at the CF Jordan yard, soil retention walls needed to be constructed due to land slope, and concrete forms had to be built offsite in the yard as well.
"When we looked at the existing utilities on the site, it looked like a bowl of spaghetti," said Raymond Smith, CF Jordan's Senior Project Manager. "Allen Shubert from the City of El Paso was invaluable in guiding this aspect of the project."
"We had biweekly meetings with 30 to 40 people representing all of the entities involved - water, power, telecom," Smith continued. "There was even an 84-inch storm drain running through the site. But we all worked together as a team with constant communication and coordination, quickly adapting to all of the necessary changes."
CF Jordan's Superintendent Larry Diaz echoed the fact that great team work enabled the project to succeed. "We all worked hard together to make this happen. From our M.E.P. subs with more than 80 individuals working simultaneously on site, to the State of Texas Elevator Inspector, to Adrian Garcia from the City of El Paso, everyone involved in building the ballpark reflected a positive attitude and found solutions when we ran into obstacles," Diaz stated.
"And there were some good ones, like the 69,000-volt overhead electric lines that only could be turned off on weekends, and the discovery of the underground fiber optic lines that service downtown El Paso and UTEP," Diaz continued. "But everyone had the goal to make this project a success and we quickly found ways to solve all of the challenges."
Frank Licon, Project Manager for Jordan Infrastructure & Concrete, was on the site 80 hours a week. He reports that more than 14,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured to build the ballpark. Some pours took the crew 'round the clock with formers working until 8 p.m. and concrete coming in at 10 p.m. and finishers working through the night.
"We had 40 trucks lined up when we poured the pier caps, bringing 500 cubic yards in," Licon said. "We did something new here at the ballpark to make the schedule - we poured the second floor first, after the columns, of course. While we were doing that, the mechanical, electrical and plumbing subcontractors could work on the first floor."
"A unique challenge on the project was building a cantilevered deck 18 feet above the Union Pacific Railroad tracks during their busiest time of the year last fall," Licon stated. "Fortunately, the railroad guys were very helpful when we were working on it, giving us two- to three-hour windows when no trains would be rolling through."
Populous Architects is a long-time partner with Hunt Construction Group and they played a major role in envisioning and building Southwest University Park. Mark Palmer is the Lead Project Architect on the project, and from the original schematics, he managed the design, the completion of the drawings and worked closely with the project team on site.
Mark McCaskey, Construction Manager with Hunt Construction Group, couldn't agree more. "Mark Palmer is great to work with, as he understands the construction process and is a great hands-on architect. He has brought so much to the superlative design of the ballpark."
With an official capacity of 9,500 fans, a 360-degree concourse, public art spaces, great sight lines, 40,000 square feet of floor space on the concourse level with retail and a wide array of food offerings, team offices and elevated seating decks, Southwest University Park will immediately become an iconic landmark and bring a new level of family activity and excitement to downtown El Paso.
When the umpire yells "Play ball!" on Monday night, a new era of professional baseball will begin in El Paso. And an All-Star Team of design, engineering and construction professionals will have earned the first home win of the season.