Year-round care keeps Beaver Stadium shipshape for game days

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a college football fan, when do you start preparing for the first game of the season? Maybe it’s the day before a game when you’re packing up the car for a Saturday of tailgating. Or maybe it’s earlier in the summer when you receive your tickets for the season. At that point, the first game probably seems so far away.

What if your football season preparation began as soon as the previous season ended? That is the reality for employees within Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant (OPP) who are responsible for the upkeep of Beaver Stadium.

Parts of Beaver Stadium date back to 1960, when it held a meager 46,284 seats in its original horseshoe shape. Compare that to today’s capacity of 107,282, a number that grew incrementally through nine renovations and additions over its 55-year history. It takes a small army to keep the stadium up and running, and the fan experience top-notch.

For example, many fans may remember the nor’easter that struck a large portion of the east coast the day after Thanksgiving last year. More than 220 OPP employees worked to clear the snow in the stadium that Friday, with another 200 coming in Saturday before the game. They used 300 shovels, 175 ice buckets and 73,000 pounds of Ice Melt to prepare the stadium for the fans and the teams.

After Penn State closed out the 2014 season on Nov. 29, employees from OPP jumped back into action to prepare the stadium for the dormant winter months. While a small fraction of the stadium hosts events year-round, the majority of the facility remains empty. OPP takes care of winterizing the unused areas, serving to protect critical infrastructure such as plumbing and electrical. Water is removed from all fixtures and drains; breakers and heat are shut off; and concession stands are closed down.

With the exception of the Blue-White Game held every April, the annual Central Pennsylvania 4thFest, and other events held in the suites and club level, the stadium remains relatively quiet, an iconic structure awaiting the return of the Penn State faithful each fall.

“We start four weeks before the first home game,” said Ron Nagle, an area services supervisor who oversees facilities maintenance at Beaver Stadium. “During those four weeks of season prep we’re checking all the mechanical to make sure everything is working. This includes thermostats, outlets, lights, toilets, sinks, bun warmers, fryers and more.” In a facility the size of Beaver Stadium, this is no small task.

Once season prep is completed, OPP moves into game preparations during the week leading up to a home game. Most years the football team alternates between being on the road and playing at home. This year, however, the team saw five straight home games for the first time in stadium history. This meant the OPP maintenance crews were on nonstop stadium duty for more than nine straight weeks. Quite a feat.

What if your football season preparation began as soon as the previous season ended? That is the reality for employees within Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant who are responsible for the upkeep of Beaver Stadium.

In a normal week leading up to a game, OPP starts its preparations on Monday. Technicians from areas including electrical, elevator, heat and vent, refrigeration, the lock shop, maintenance, plumbing, landscape and custodial spend the week making their rounds in the stadium. They attend to work orders submitted after the previous week’s game to make any repairs that could not be handled on the spot and go through their numerous checklists to make sure the stadium is all set for Saturday.

“We do the best we can to make sure there are not issues heading into a game,” said Nagle. “But we can go through, do all of our prep and be satisfied on Friday only to come in on Saturday morning and find an issue.”

To help mitigate the impact of potential problems, OPP technicians have a final game day checklist to handle before the gates open to the fans. For a plumber, that includes flushing all commodes; turning on all sinks and checking for leaks; and making sure paper products are stocked. For other technicians, it includes checking ice machines, walk-in coolers, thermostats, lighting, televisions, elevators and more. The list seems endless. What can be handled immediately is, but what can’t is submitted as a work order to be handled after the game.

Even after a game starts, OPP is not off the hook. Technicians are stationed all over the stadium, ready to handle any calls that come in to the central command center located in the press box. During an average game, the command center receives upwards of 50 calls. During a night game, the number of calls can stretch into the hundreds. “We get called for anything and everything,” said Nagle. “It could be a nacho cheese spill in an aisle — or a more human and organic cleanup. We’ll take care of whatever the problem is, even if we don’t have a specialized technician for the issue at hand.”

It’s that “can do” attitude that makes OPP so vital to a successful game day and fan experience. The technicians attend to a great number of issues leading up to, during and after game day that usually go unseen or unnoticed. But that’s the ultimate goal — making sure fans have the best experience possible without having to worry about anything, from a cold hot dog bun due to a malfunctioning steamer, to a major leak over covered seating during rainy games.

It takes a small army to keep the stadium up and running, and the fan experience top-notch.

“The success of game day goes far beyond what happens on the field,” said Mark Bodenschatz, associate athletic director, facility and event operations management. “I define success as flawless, behind-the-scenes work that goes absolutely unnoticed but provides a framework for the event. Every aspect of service that OPP provides helps us toward success.”

In addition to all the work OPP handles during the season, they’re also a source for ideas of ways to make improvements and create more efficiency. The technicians know the stadium and processes intimately and have provided numerous ideas over the years, many of which have been enacted.

“The work our crews do is really important,” said Nagle. “I’ve been to events at other places where you don’t have things you need or something integral isn’t working. Ultimately, it’s our technicians who make it all happen. They take pride in what they do and are thrilled to be part of the game day experience.”

Last Updated November 25, 2015