As the story goes, a Hensel Phelps Construction crew discovered a bulldog gnawing on a rail spike early one morning when they arrived at the construction site of what would eventually become the new home of the Round Rock Express Ballpark in Round Rock, TX. The dog hung around and folks assumed it had hitched a ride, then fallen from the freight train that rumbled through the area each night. A bond soon formed between crew and dog, and Hensel Phelps adopted Spike as its official guard dog at the site.
Tom Fisher, site manager for Hensel Phelps Construction, based in Austin, TX, won’t confirm or deny Spike’s story. His primary concern has been to maintain an aggressive schedule while controlling budget on a very fast track, eight-month project. But when graders fall silent and gates open for the opening game on April 16, Spike the bulldog, disguised as a railroad engineer, will take his place as the mascot of the Round Rock Express Baseball Club.
Round Rock Baseball, the investor group headed by former baseball star, Nolan Ryan and his son Reid agreed to bring their Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros to Round Rock in 1998 after they and Houston Businessman Don Sanders purchased the team — then known as the Jackson (MS) Generals. In that same year, Round Rock voters approved $7.28 million in bonds to help fund both a stadium and convention center.
Since then, rising construction costs in a climate where rapid growth has increased competition for construction materials and labor, have driven the ballpark price from its original estimate of $13 million to $18.7 million. Because the city’s contribution is frozen, Round Rock Baseball will cover the increase, without compromising its promise to build a quality stadium with 7,500 seats and 24 skyboxes.
To advance the project’s timeline, separate contracts were awarded for dirt and concrete work. Package A, worth $2.4 million, went to Bartlett-Cocke based in San Antonio, TX, and Package B, topped at $1.18 million, was granted to Alamo Steel, based in Waco, TX, for the steel structure work. Hensel Phelps Construction received the nod on Package C, a $15.16-million contract to do the building-construction phase of the project.
“Nobody really, really needed this job. Everybody’s got a lot of work. We were under a very, very tight timeline and I think that probably drove the numbers up a little bit,” said R. D. Sneed, assistant general manager/director of operations for Round Rock Baseball, commenting on the supply and demand atmosphere of the building construction industry. “We feel pretty good about it. We had four contractors bid on it and all four of them were within just a few hundred thousand dollars of one another, and so we feel like we had a nice tight group. So, everybody knew what they were bidding.”
Although weather has been dry during the building construction phase, Sneed pointed out that July 1999 was one of the wettest Julys on record. Because the initial grading and digging out of the bowl were in progress at that time, crews struggled with abnormal dampness for awhile.
Olmos Construction, a San Antonio-based firm, subcontracted under Package A to do the mass excavation work. Speaking for his company, Glen Boultinghouse said that about 13 operators finished up the work in about three months. Company-owned Caterpillar equipment such as 631 scrapers, D8 dozers, and 966 loaders were employed.
According to Marvin Turner, general manager at Alamo Steel, his company provided approximately 720 metric tons (800 tons) of structural steel for the stadium, convention center building, batting cage, maintenance storage area, and concession stands. To meet specifications, Tool Design Solutions, a connection designer based in Birmingham, AL — and a subcontractor to Alamo — first worked with HKS, a Dallas-based architectural firm.
“A lot of the connections were exposed,” Turner said, describing his company’s biggest challenge. “We had to get our connections designer to make a sketch, get it approved by the architect and engineer [at HKS], give it to our steel detailer so that they could go ahead and detail the steel.”
Professional Drafting Services, another subcontractor based in Birmingham, detailed the steel, starting from about the third base line and working toward home plate and then around the whole facility, returning to third base.
Among its 80 to 90 employees, Alamo called upon fitters and welders who cut, punched and prepped the material. After being cut and holes punched, plate parts were assembled and welded. A wheelabrator shop blasted the steel and then a zinc primer was painted on.
In addition to a complete line of saws, Alamo employed a number of cranes that were used to move the material. As Turner explained, models ranged from old P&Hs to new Yales. “Most are shop-built bridges with store-bought hoists manufactured by P&H, Yale, or Zeiko,” he said.
Begun in May 1999, the steel structures were completed and delivered by October, when Hensel Phelps began the building construction.
This new multi-purpose facility, complete with swimming pool and convention center, is the fulfillment of Reid Ryan’s vision. Having played minor league baseball and traveled to major league parks with his dad as a youngster, Reid Ryan had some definite ideas about the construction of the ballpark. Among the main items, he wanted the fans to be on top of the action. Toward this end, the bullpens were moved to the outfield to get fan interaction with pitchers. This also allowed the bleachers to be closer to the foul line. Rather than circle around behind the concourse as they do in many parks, the concession stands have been pulled into the field sides to give fans standing in line a thorough view of the stadium.
With 7,816 fixed seats and berm seating for about 2,500, the park has room for some 10,000 seated fans. Stadium parking will accommodate 2,500 vehicles. Adjacent to the 2.4-hectare (6 acre) grounds is Old Settlers Park that can handle overflow, with revenues shared between park and ballpark.
As construction neared completion, final grading and blading were under way. According to John Gustainis, president of Champion Site Prep Inc., Georgetown, TX, drainage issues on the perimeters of the project needed attention. Graders like the Cat 140 G and H, along with a Cat 963 track loader, owned by Champion, put the final shaping on the bowl area. Also used were 213.36-centimeter (84 in.), smooth drum rollers like the 1102.
Looking back over his company’s role, Gustainis saw that its greatest challenge was the seating area of the bowl. “It’s not one continuous round bowl,” he said. “It’s in flat sections and so each section has to be bladed flat so the seating’s right. Then it takes a crease and makes a degree of turn as you come around … the stations were set level yet on about a 38-degree slope. It was a difficult blading job.”
For Tom Fisher, site manager at Hensel Phelps, the challenge was coordinating where Packages A and B left off and Package C began, as well as coordinating all of the infrastructure packages.
J. D. Sneed, who has worked on other parks such as that of the Lansing Lugnuts, a Single-A facility for the Kansas City Royals, and a Triple-A facility for the Houston Astros in New Orleans, compares the facilities. He sees that Dell Diamond, the name given the Express ballpark, has more seating capacity. The positioning of the concession stands at the new park is new. As a multipurpose park, it can also be converted on non-game days for use by festivals. The conference center is already being booked for high school proms, wedding receptions and sales seminars.
Although it’s not totally unique to ballparks, Sneed said the 112.5-square-meter (1,250 sq. ft.) pool and 10-person hot tub are somewhat unusual. Additionally, a 13- by 19-meter (45 by 65 ft.) sports court is available for basketball, volleyball, and other games. “Once we get it up and running, we will have the largest video-score board in the minor leagues,” he added.
While the last eight months of construction have flown by for crews working to finish before opening day on April 16, the time has dragged for fans. Involvement began when they voted to name their team the Express after the name once given the fastball pitcher, Nolan Ryan. Now, with opening day tickets sold out, fans anticipate the opening of Round Rock’s first minor league ballpark.