Barton Malow - Michigan State University Breslin Student Events Center

BARTON MALOW 01Barton Malow is performing a $50 million renovation on MSU’s Breslin Center while it remains in operation.
By Tim O’Connor

At a time when public projects are driven to find the lowest responsible bid, the impact of relationships can be understated. But the familiarity among owner, construction manager and contractors on the renovation and expansion of Michigan State University’s Breslin Student Events Center shows how critical trust can be in overhauling a facility that must remain open throughout construction.

All of the subcontractors chosen for the project are based in Michigan and many have worked on MSU projects before. “They understand the culture and expectation of the university so it’s not a matter of educating the contractors every time they come on site,” says Kevin Waldman, senior project manager for Barton Malow, the construction manager for the renovation.

Barton Malow was selected to spearhead the project with MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities because of the firm’s long history with the university and other arena projects around the country. Those have included the 2005 expansion of Spartan Stadium and an addition to the north end zone that was finished in 2014. The company also built the university’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, the Skandalaris Football Center expansion and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. Barton Malow box

Waldman says Barton Malow’s familiarity with the MSU’s team benefited the construction process for the Breslin Student Events Center renovation. To capitalize on those relationships, the company brought back the superintendent who worked on Spartan Stadium.

Enhancing the Experience

The Breslin Student Events Center expansion project, designed by Detroit architecture firm Rossetti, is the first major renovation since the facility opened in November 1989. The facility is most famous for being the site of most of basketball coach Tom Izzo’s 740 career wins, but it also hosts music performers, commencement ceremonies, career fairs, blood drives, comic conventions and other functions. 

With so much going on, MSU wanted to overhaul the center to meet the needs of a 21st-century facility and enhance the visitor experience. In October 2015, the university’s Board of Trustees approved $50 million to renovate and expand the Breslin Student Events Center. Work began in January 2016 and improvements on the north end were completed in October, before the basketball season began. The second phase of construction, which consists of the south end of the building, is on pace to be completed by September 2017. 

The expansion will add more than 50,000 square feet of space to the center – including a 28,000-square-foot Hall of History commemorating the success of Spartan athletics. The renovation will also add strength and conditioning space for athletes and a recruiting lounge. 

The center’s concourses are being widened and new materials incorporated to give the foyers a brighter look while making them more maintenance friendly. The concrete columns at the entrances are being wrapped with limestone and the tile flooring is being replaced with terrazzo. 

But the most important enhancements may be the doubling of the amount of restroom and concession space, meaning shorter lines for fans eager to buy their souvenir cups and get back to the game. Minimal work is being done in the arena bowl itself and the center will maintain its 16,280-seating capacity.

With a trophy room and interactive displays, the Hall of History is the signature piece of the expansion, but Waldman believes the other aspects of the renovation are equally important to the fan experience. “Those things might not be as exciting but at the end of the day they’ll be equally appreciated,” he explains.

For example, the outside of the structure is getting an overhaul. In the original arena design, the four entrances into the building consisted of a simple bank of 20 doors at each gate. The renovation project will create a vestibule – which has the added bonus of improving energy efficiency – and allow for better access from the outdoor plazas that surround the center. 

Open and Operating

Because of its importance not only to Spartan athletics, but also the entire student body, the Breslin Center has remained open throughout the construction process. Working in an active facility creates a number of challenges and logistical hurdles Barton Malow has had to overcome. 

The company is applying the lessons it learned for its work on the north end of the events center to make progress on the second phase go more smoothly. Like many facilities that have been in service for three decades, the Breslin Center has a lot of hidden conditions that crews did not discover until they began tearing out walls and breaking up the floors and ceilings. “Any time you do a major renovation of a building like this I think the unknown is always a major challenge,” Waldman states. 

Knowing those conditions going into phase two allows Barton Malow to prepare for changes in materials and additional work. “We have anticipated very similar circumstances on the south and have already incorporated that into everyone’s contract to schedule accordingly,” Waldman adds.

There is no perfect approach to resolving scheduling and logistics issues, especially when the project is a facility that must remain open and hosts events nearly every week of the year. But the Breslin Center renovation is helping Barton Malow refine its tactics and be more efficient. “It’s just a matter of meeting the challenges and creating a successful project,” Waldman says. “There’s a million thing that go into that.” 

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