July 15, 2013
It's another busy summer at the Big House.
Perhaps you've seen the protective tarps or heard the sand blasting. Michigan Stadium is currently undergoing a summer-long painting project, and like everything else done at the nation's largest stadium, it's been a major undertaking.
The $6 million project, which started in April and wraps up mid-August, will remove existing paint from the stadium bowl at the upper rows, repair and replace corroded steel and repaint with corrosion-resistant paint to better protect the metal.
A 1949 stadium expansion replaced the old wooden bleachers with permanent steel stands around the stadium concourse. Those 13 additional rows had only been painted once before, in the early 1970s, and common for its lifespan, the paint on both sides -- topside and underneath -- was starting to fail and rust.
The paint was tested by UM - OSEH during the project's planning phases a year ago and found to be lead-based. As a result, the painting project must follow several steps. The crew must first remove the lead paint with a combination of air and sand blasting in a contained area that vacuums up the dust before applying a protective coat on the steel and a finally a layer of gray epoxy paint. They started work on the east side and are tackling the topside and underneath in an alternating path counterclockwise around the stadium. A significant portion of the project's cost is related to those safety and environmental concerns.
It's a pretty extensive little paint project, according to Michigan Stadium supervisor Chris Ehman. One he hopefully won't ever have to see it come around again. With many of the recent repairs and modifications, most things around the stadium are pretty new, allowing Ehman and his staff to focus more on upkeep and preventative maintenance issues.
"You have to have a really forward-looking thought process," said Ehman. "You try to do and use things that are cost effective for the future and lighten the load on your staff during the offseason. You're always thinking about how to do things different, how to do them better and how to make things last a little bit longer. I think we've got a pretty good handle on it."
Ehman has overseen the Big House since 1998. He's helped coordinate several major stadium undertakings over his tenure, most notably the recent expansion which increased capacity and added new suites, club seating and press box for the 2010 season. This summer, in addition to the painting project, Ehman is managing the completion of two multi-year projects -- the widening of aisles and installation of hand railing around the entire bowl.
"Some of these upgrades might not draw a lot of attention," said Ehman. "But when you're here every day -- it's like your house peeling -- you start noticing things that maybe others wouldn't. I take a lot of pride in it. It's the largest football venue in America. I went school here. I grew up watching Michigan football. It's been great to take care of this place. You like to think that it's a part of you, so you want to represent the university in the best light and make everything look as nice as you possibly can. You want to do it right, and you want to do it well."
So, when you head to Michigan Stadium for a football game this fall, take a moment to look around. Glance up at the I-beams, girders and parapet; look down at the bleacher seating and new railings. Everything will have a fresh coat of paint on it.