Before they began renovating TCU’s 53-year-old Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the construction crews at Austin Commercial were met with a request: Save the letters. The 60s-style signage of the old arena’s name — perhaps the quickest indicator the building was decades past its prime — was apparently worth salvaging.
So Gene Gunstanson, the senior superintendent overseeing the project, complied, and the letters were stowed away. Then, in March, Gunstanson and his crews went to work.
Nearly four months later, Daniel-Meyer Coliseum is a gutted shell of its former, outdated self.
The box office that greeted fans for years on the east side of the arena has been leveled. The circular concourse, with pictures of past TCU athletes on one side and concessions on the other, has been stripped bare. And the floor, which will be lowered three feet by the time construction is done, has been cleared to the concrete.
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The end result will be a $59 million overhaul with new home and visitor locker rooms, seats closer to the floor, a food court that will help widen concourses and a 15,000-square foot entryway that will house a TCU Athletics Hall of Fame.
The construction, expected to be done for the 2015-16 season, will require the men’s and women’s basketball teams to relocate this year. The women will play home games at the University Recreation Center, while the men will play at the 4,759-seat Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center, a Fort Worth school district gym 15 minutes from campus.
So far, the construction progress has been more demolition than renovation. But when it’s finished, the main changes fans will see will be in three areas: The new entrance, which will feature art deco architecture designed to match Amon G. Carter Stadium; the concourse areas; and the lower bowl section of seats, which instead of circling the court, will extend to the floor on the sides, creating a more rectangular look.
To get there, crews began by razing the old facade and ticket office. The current entrance to the building is simply an opening leading to a hollowed-out concourse. Excavation for the new entrance — which will be built as a separate structure but connect to the concourse — will begin in about a month, Gunstanson said.
Inside the arena, workers have been busy re-routing utilities, preparing to build a food court that will extend outward along the arena’s south side and clearing out what was once home and away locker rooms below the north concourse level.
The concourse itself won’t widen, but the addition of the food court will create a more open feel for fans passing through, Gunstanson said.
There’s been plenty of activity below the concourses, too. The men’s and women’s locker rooms and visitor locker rooms used to be at court level, through a tunnel on the north end of the floor. The new locker rooms will still be relatively in that same area. But the old ones are already gone, with crews plowing through the rooms in a week last month.
What the fans will experience at the court level should begin taking shape in about a month and a half. That’s when Gunstanson said excavation of the Daniel-Meyer floor should begin. With an already sunken arena, crews will likely have to dig through rock to get to the desired depth. Doing that, though, will allow for seats that will extend to court level.
The old setup was circular, with the stadium seating ending a distance from the court, and a long press table lining the edge of the floor, across from team benches. In the renovated arena, media will sit higher up, leaving room for more “Jack Nicholson seats” courtside, TCU spokesman Mark Cohen said.
The biggest challenge of the construction so far has been its proximity to other buildings, Gunstanson said. On one side of Daniel-Meyer, there’s Amon G. Carter Stadium and the football offices. Then, along the south side near where the food court will be, there’s the football practice fields. Workers spent one day re-routing power to Daniel-Meyer to come from the south side of the arena instead of the north side to avoid any accidental flips of the switch.
“They’re still using those buildings so we can’t shut [electricity] down,” Gunstanson said. “You run into that, but it’s also making sure you maintain the life safety of those buildings. That’s probably one of the biggest issues, making sure [employees] can get in or out.”
A fence will divide construction from the football stadium on game days. Gunstanson said the bigger challenge will be once football practices start as workers build the food court.
He estimated the project to be about 5 percent done, as the prep work for structural changes has been extensive. Exterior renovations are expected to be completed around February. Interior work, including building film rooms and creating new office space for coaching staffs in other sports, should take the project to the start of the 2015 season, Gunstanson said.
“We’ll be done probably the day before the first game,” Gunstanson said. “That’s usually how these things work out.”