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Kansas State University undertook a program to revitalize and repurpose Memorial Stadium.
Kansas State University undertook a program to revitalize and repurpose Memorial Stadium.
November 26, 2016 7:00 AM CST

Kansas State University: Memories to Last a Lifetime

Rehabs and Restorations Case Study


Founded in 1863, Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., was the first public institution of higher learning in the state. The campus’ architectural style is well defined by the use of native Cottonwood Limestone in stout masonry buildings featuring arch-capped entrances and windows. Memorial Stadium was constructed as a tribute to Kansas State students killed in World War I, and is composed of two independent halves: west stadium (completed in 1922) and east stadium (completed in 1924). The general seating capacity was 17,500, and the stadium faithfully served as home to the Wildcats’ football team until 1967, when the University opened a newer facility.

In the nearly 50 years since, Memorial Stadium has remained a fixture of K-State campus life without having a defined function. The fields have served campus activities like band practices, intramurals and jogging, while the functions of the interior buildings beneath the stands have included academic, administrative and storage. Most recently, the east stadium building housed KSU’s Telecommunications Department and the Purple Masque Theater, while the west stadium primarily provided creative space to students in the Graduate Studies in Arts Department.

In a multi-phase process that reached completion in April 2016, the university undertook a program to revitalize and repurpose Memorial Stadium. With the first phase of construction breaking ground in November 2013, this two-and-a-half-year process included a complete masonry rehabilitation and repositioning each of the wings as new campus amenities.

“Being a part of the preservation of this important community touchstone is what makes being a mason feel special,” remarks Shawn Smoke, assistant vice president at Restoration and Water Proofing, the masonry contractor responsible for the stonework rehabilitation on Memorial Stadium. Restoration and Water Proofing is a 42-year-old business with offices in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, where Smoke is the branch manager. He oversees masonry and waterproofing teams working on a wide range of projects, but believes historic masonry is an exceptional challenge and thrill. His role in the K-State project stretches back to 2014, when he began working with the university to develop a masonry rehabilitation budget and scope of work that were ultimately used in the contract documents. While the thrill comes largely from completing the project, one of Smoke’s biggest challenges was finding replacement materials for stones taken from the ground close to a century ago.

“Trying to source stone as close to a replica as possible is always a goal in preservation work,” says Smoke, who gladly shares credit with stone supplier Lardner for finding the best match on Memorial Stadium. Together, they closely scrutinized the stone being removed from Memorial Stadium in order to find a near-replica in Lardner’s quarry.

“Lardner was able to cut every stone to the exact dimensions needed and sent them out to the site ready to be placed,” continues Smoke, who estimates that his team replaced approximately 20 percent of the existing stones in both stadium wings. They were also charged with removing and completely rebuilding the parapet walls ringing both structures. “The way the parapets were originally built didn’t really consider the need for water to escape from the stone properly. We needed to modernize that and decided to build a composite wall system to increase longevity and effectiveness.” The new parapets are built from a CMU core encased in the new replica stone. The result is a near-perfect match to the original structure in appearance, yet more structurally sound.

Beyond the masonry restoration, the project involved a complete gut and renovation of both wing buildings below the stands. The west wing now serves as a campus theater, and the east wing is a new location for student services, financial aid, housing and dining services, and the career center. One unusual challenge in the project was how to rehabilitate the concrete risers above the revitalized structures. Since the stands had always served as roofs to the buildings underneath, that function had to remain, though they no longer needed to account for 17,500 screaming Wildcats fans. K-State’s landscape architecture department proposed transforming the majority of the seating into green roofs. Planted with native materials, the green roof provides an ideal way to reseal the structures, while enhancing the stadium aesthetically and making a strong environmental statement.

Because current building codes wouldn’t allow a tremendous amount of weight to be added to the roofs, designers turned to ACH Foam Technologies’ Foam-Control EPS Geofoam, an innovative commercial building product that is about 1 percent of the weight of natural soil. ACH’s specially engineered expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam offered a lightweight material capable of filling in the slopes created by the rows of seating without overburdening the structural capacity of the roofs. The contoured slab was then covered with a thin layer of soil and planted with native species in a K-State color palette, creating a sloped prairie hillside bisected by a running track.

“Figuring out the contours of all the steps was really quite a puzzle,” says Curtis Calvert, project manager for Hutton Construction, who is a K-State alumnus. Calvert credits roofing subcontractor Western Specialty Group for determining the most efficient way to cover the slope without much material or labor waste. “They came out and mapped every inch of the stadium, which allowed each piece of foam to be specially cut and configured for placement on the slope.”

Smoke and Calvert both shared a story for the ages about the project. “As we were doing the punch list, walking along the east stadium’s exterior wall, a few individual stones were identified that we wanted to replace,” recalls Smoke. Behind one of those stones among literally thousands, a foreman discovered an old tin can with a note inside. “The note was handwritten and signed by five masons who had worked on the original construction,” continues Smoke. Such an incredible find should remind us all that buildings are built by real people with a commitment to their craft.

About the Author

John Myers is a sales representative for ACH Foam Technologies.


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