By JOHN ALTAVILLA
By the time Gampel Pavilion approached its 27th birthday this year, it had become clear the building, home to so many NCAA basketball champions, had begun to age gracefully.
About 130 feet above the floor, the 2,093 triangular tiles comprising the underbelly of the domed roof, each about seven feet high and four feet wide, were showing classic signs of wear. The fabric wrapped around each of the tiles was fading in color and peeling, leaving in its wake an aesthetic mess.
About three years ago, well aware of the cosmetic erosion â€” and occasional leaks that inevitably began to spring â€” university officials decided to fix the problem.
â€śOver the years, we had noticed some of the deterioration of the interior fabric, what you actually were able to see when sitting inside Gampel,â€ť said Evan Feinglass, UConnâ€™s associate director of athletics in charge of athletics/facilities management and planning. â€śThere was no problem with the structure of the exterior. This was strictly a visual thing. The tiles were dry, brittle and peeling. We looked at (fixing) it last year, but based on state budgetary concerns it was tabled until this year, and we began to proceed right after commencement. â€¦
â€śI remember when ESPN would be here to do our games and their cameras would span to the (roof) to the championship banners. I used to cringe.â€ť
The process of repairing the roof began with a $10 million budget and a crew of about 40 on the job. The assignment was painstaking: lowering each individual tile from the roof to the Gampel floor, rewrapping it and raising it back for re-installation â€” with the hopes of getting another 15 to 20 years of life out of the roof.
â€śWork like this is weather-dependent. We were concerned about how to manage weather impacts,â€ť said Michael Schrier, UConnâ€™s director of design and STEM projects. â€śA team was organized that allowed us to build in safeguards and contingencies to address rain delays. In the end, we benefited from longer days with the sun. June was a wet month, but we were able to make the time up in July and August.â€ť
â€śThe building was born in 1990. Like any building of any sort, in this particular instance a domed structure with a fabric panel, it lives a usual life,â€ť Schrier said. â€śWhat eventually happened is not uncommon. Considering its age and the wear and tear, it was pretty much inevitable. This has been a long time coming.â€ť
With about two dozen workers on the roof, and others tending to business on the floor, the goal was to repair at least 35 tiles daily.
â€śThe last panel was raised right on schedule,â€ť Feinglass said.
The unique design of Gampel was the outcome of discussions dating to the late 1960s. Early designs included a building with a wooden dome and one with a flat roof topped by a playing field with artificial turf. Those ideas were tossed after the weather-related Hartford Civic Center roof collapse in 1978.
The roof served its purpose until recurring leaks became problematic, but not just in terms of inconveniencing fans. The basketball court, specifically a sprung wood floor designed to absorb shock to lend a softer feel, was in danger of warping.
â€śInitial discussions talked about completely transforming the roof structure, basically constructing a new arena, which would have cost too much,â€ť Feinglass said. â€śThey then talked about getting rid of the dome and replacing it with a flat roof. What was decided was to replace the interior roof, which in the process reinforced the exterior of the roof once everything was resealed, fastened and tightened.â€ť
The repair plans went through several phases. There was an idea to repair only certain tiles to save money, but that was dismissed because it would have failed cosmetically, with new white tiles next to aging tiles. There also was concern about how the repaired tiles would fit back into the frame of the puzzle.
Eventually, it was determined to lower the individual panels in pods of six to the Gampel floor â€” protected by its own shell and used as the refurbishing area â€” as opposed to working on the panels while still affixed on the roof.
â€śIt was a real production. The work was sequenced, we worked from the top and then kind of spread ourselves around going down,â€ť Schrier said.
While the work was being done, UConnâ€™s volleyball team was moved to Guyer Gym for the season and UConnâ€™s annual First Night for basketball was canceled. But thatâ€™s all a thing of the past now.
â€śItâ€™s a tremendous difference, it really transforms the space,â€ť Schrier said. â€śWhen we started off with the project we anticipated a great renovation. But we probably didnâ€™t realize the implications of its impact until we saw the finished product.â€ť
Schrier said the work was completed within the original budget.
â€śRight now, we are in the reconciliation phase (of determining the final cost), but I would say we were pretty much on target, if anything under budget,â€ť Schrier said.
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