BMO Field

MLSE scores goal with BMO Field makeover

Stadium transformation completed on fast-tracked schedule in time for TFC season kickoff
Thursday, May 19, 2016
By Michelle Ervin

BMO Field, home to the Toronto FC, hosted the celebration of two goals on the TFC’s home opener May 7. One was the point scored by Tsubasa Endoh that netted the Major League Soccer (MLS) team a 1-0 win over FC Dallas. The other was the completion of the sports venue’s two-year, $150-million transformation in time for the season’s kickoff.

Phase one of the project increased the capacity of the venue to more than 30,000 with a new, 8,400-seat upper bowl on the top of the east grandstand. It also saw upgrades to and additions of luxury clubs and suite spaces, which are serviced by a new kitchen and food preparation area.

Phase two of the project raised the new roof and readied the venue for the arrival of the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Toronto Argonauts. It involved adding a 10,000-square-foot training area and locker room, reconfiguring visiting locker rooms and switching out seats on the north and south grandstands with portable risers.

The business case for expansion

BMO Field was just seven years old when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) undertook the renovation project. The young facility’s original construction in 2007 was low-budget, explained Bob Hunter, chief project development officer, MLSE, with funding coming from the sports and entertainment company as well as all three levels of government.

“No one quite knew whether soccer was going to be a success story in Toronto, because previously, it had not worked,” recalled Hunter, “so we decided that we would take the chance, but didn’t want to over-invest in a facility.”

Although it ranked high among MLS venues initially, he said, it slipped in its standing as the game grew in the U.S. and new venues sprouted up. With a dedicated following of TFC fans since well-established, and a few acquisitions of high-profile European players later, the case for the facility had not only been proven but was so strong as to warrant boosting its capacity. Market research also showed that MLSE was missing out on opportunities to host corporations that wanted to entertain at games because it lacked the amenities.

Flexible, functional, sophisticated design

Phase one of the project expanded the existing Rogers Club and introduced the East Field Club and Tunnel Club, with interiors that Ron Turner, sports practice area leader and principal of Gensler, described as sophisticated. The idea was to elevate the experience from a stadium or sports-bar feel to an upscale atmosphere that could compete with other attractions in Toronto. The new kitchen and food preparation area was a key ingredient in this, as formerly most of the facility’s fare had to be delivered to the site.

In between phases one and two, the project team learned that the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts would be taking up residence in BMO Field. While it had been contemplated in the design as a future possibility, the news required the team to quickly adjust its game plan to build in the flexibility to accommodate both football and soccer on the same pitch, said Turner. The ultimate solution was to preserve the grass turf for TFC games and extend the field to CFL size with artificial turf onto which the portable risers could be rolled out during soccer matches.

Phase two also provided fans cover from rain with the raising of roof canopies over the east, west and south stands. Their design inverted the typical placement of the major structural elements and the roof, putting the trusses on top, where the arches are visible on the Toronto skyline.

“It has to be a functional aspect to the building, but you always keep in mind that this is going to be a very tall and large building — much bigger than what was there originally — and so how do we do something that is beautiful, can be lit very interestingly at night and really create an icon toward the building and the park and the city?” Turner asked rhetorically.

Complex, fast-tracked, phased construction

It took the complex engineering and construction of four steel super-columns in each corner of the stadium to bear the load of the trusses. Quebec-based Canam Group fabricated the steel roof components, which together tipped the scale at 7.2-million pounds.

“In preparation for phase two, we continued to do enabling works, putting in the foundations of the super-columns, all between TFC games in the stadium and the community use days that the stadium has designated,” said Neil Barrows, the senior project manager who oversaw the renovation for construction manager PCL Construction.

Both phases of the renovation were fast-tracked to be completed during the TFC’s off-season, which also meant working during winter. Plus, the project team had to coordinate activity around major events such as the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games as well as work outside of the stadium, so as not to damage the pitch.

The logistics of raising the roofs

Built on-site, the east and west roof canopies were lifted in sections by Canam’s Central Steel Erectors and the Local 721 Ironworkers. The 980,000-pound south roof canopy was constructed and raised in a single piece, in what is referred to as a critical lift, which was planned with engineering consultants over the course of two years.

One of the two lattice boom crawler cranes used to lift and move the 377-foot-by-68-foot canopy into place from the foot of the south concourse came from Holland. The logistics of getting the large equipment to site involved shipping it into Hamilton Harbour, and then trucking it to Toronto in parts using 100 tractor trailers.

With the roof in place, the field would see less of the natural daylight critical to maintaining the grass turf. The grow lights that now track across the field producing artificial sun arrived from Europe just weeks before TFC’s home opener. As one of the first North American applications of the product, it required CSA approval for use in Canada, which was secured in the final days of the project.

World-class venue reopens with a win

Dan Vaillant, senior vice president of owner’s representative ICON Venue Group, led the project management team. He said that renovations come with inherent budget, design and schedule challenges, and the BMO Field project was no exception with its aggressive budget and short window of time.

Design documents were in progress when shovels went into the ground, which Vaillant noted tends to unearth unforeseen circumstances. In this case, demolition revealed poorly documented underground infrastructure, such as IT cables, that would have to be relocated.

For him, it was a testament to the team’s work that the project completed on schedule despite its fast-tracked timeline and additional design requirements.

“I’ve been involved with stadium projects for the last 15 years and this has proved to be one of the most challenging I’ve worked on,” Vaillant said. “It was very satisfying to see BMO Field transformed into a world-class venue and open with a win and 30,000 people in attendance.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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