GPS at LSU – A New Box for the Tigers

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Turning a golf course into a baseball stadium for one of the nation’s most successful college teams presented a number of "interesting" challenges for my employer, Buquet & LeBlanc, Inc. of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The fact that the new stadium would replace a legendary ballpark that had been the site of the Louisiana State University Fighting Tigers’ success for more than 70 years both heightened the expectations and reinforced the determination of everyone involved to deliver a facility that met those high expectations.

Named in honor of a 1942 LSU graduate killed in North Africa during WW II, the new $34.5 million Alex Box Stadium on the Baton Rouge campus is larger (seating 9,200 vs. 7,760), with more seats under roof, more bleacher seats,
and twice the concession space. It also has larger locker room, press, and restroom space plus entirely new amenities including 8,588 square feet of luxury suites, an arcade, club lounge, and the Tiger Baseball Hall of Fame.

The job began for Buquet & LeBlanc just as the Tigers finished the College World Series and were named in preseason polling as the number one ranked team in the nation for the upcoming year. Getting the job finished in time for the Tigers to play their first game on schedule in February 2009 added yet one more point of interest to an already challenging job. My team began by analyzing the design drawings sent to us by the architect and civil engineer.

We use Carlson Survey with embedded AutoCAD to aid in the layout of all of our construction projects, and the trick to making it work is to get the architects and engineers to share their CAD files. It’s essentially a liability issue for them since the actual physical drawings are the legal documents governing the project. So, we gave them legal immunity and they gave us the CAD files to work with.

We always start by checking the CAD file dimensions back to the construction drawings because by doing so in the past we often have found errors before they were critical or costly for the architects and engineers. On one job, for instance, we found two buildings that did not line up with a breezeway that connected them. We caught that error right before the drill shafts began, allowing lots of time for the adjustments to be made.

On this project overlaying the mechanical, electrical, and civil drawings introduced a slew of conflicts with the structural components of the lights and scoreboard, which is not unusual. From the construction side, the ability to overlay all of the different drawings has proved to be an invaluable tool for avoiding potential conflicts.

Buquet & LeBlanc owned a Sokkia Set3 230 RM total station and a Carlson Explorer running SurvCE in conjunction with Carlson Survey. This was the suite of equipment my team used to check existing control and to catalog the existing trees on the site.

Golf Courses Have Trees, Stadiums Don’t
Many of the trees designated for removal were beautiful live oaks that, over the years, had become a signature of LSU’s campus. While comparing my tree catalog to the CivilCAD file, I found a large live oak that was omitted from the construction drawing. Of course this created a conflict with the mechanical yard. After a great deal of debate it was decided that the tree would have to be removed due the amount of conflicts it caused.

Grubbing and topsoil removal began as soon as the initial site survey work done, and with it came our first major challenge. Although the site was 28 acres, the physical restrictions of the project meant that much of the stockpiled soil and building materials, plus construction trailers and heavy equipment, were all placed on or near the infield area.

It didn’t take long before the site challenges made use of the existing total station extremely difficult. It seemed that there was always something in the way of my back sight or my required stakeout point which required me to set new controls for nearly every task at hand.

I knew that a GPS-based system could overcome our line-of-sight problems, so I asked Chet Johnson, from our Sokkia and Topcon dealer, Haag and Trammel of Metairie, Louisiana, to come out and show us what they had to offer. He brought a Sokkia GSR ISX and a competitive system to demo on the site.

The Sokkia was very compact, easy to set up, and easy to connect to the rover. The biggest advantage over the competitor was that it was a complete wireless system that included a powerful SATEL internal radio at the base. Second was the fact that it would work well with Carlson software.

Within 45 minutes we had localized on my control and checked some of my previously staked-out points. The accuracy of the unit was really amazing. I was plus or minus 1/4 inch which was perfect for staking the endless lines of grade beams and drive piles.

We decided to rent a pair of Sokkia GSR ISX units for a month to see if the enhanced productivity it promised would justify the cost. One was used as a base, the other as a rover.

It took us about two days to become familiar enough with the equipment to match the setup speed Chet achieved in the demo. It took a bit longer for me to trust the measurements coming from the equipment.

My standard practice was to always tiein to a known point with the total station. With GPS, I would check into four or five points before staking out. The accuracy of the GPS was unbelievable. I had to call Haag and Trammell to ensure that I was doing the localization procedure correctly, but setting up on a single base point that was protected and out of the way helped to keep everything consistent.

Once the GPS was set up my team quickly was able to complete a rough layout of the building pad and parking which allowed the groundwork to begin. As soon as the trees were removed, we started to stake out the drive piles. We were able to layout 80 to 100 drive piles a day ahead of the driver.

We also had to re-point the stakes that were lost due to the equipment being used. In addition we had to survey each pile after completion and build an as-built drawing to ensure each pile’s location and verify that it was driven. I was able to do all of this with the assistance of one laborer who drove the stakes. Accomplishing the same tasks with the Set3 total station would have required two additional people and added two person-months worth of labor to the job cost.

Our next challenge was to build a triangulation model for the playing field surface.

The baseball field had to be set to a grade of a quarter inch tolerance, which was my responsibility as well. There is a uniform 1 percent slope on the field except for the pitcher’s mound.

I built the triangulation model of the file using Carlson Survey 2008. We had a CAD file with the slope contours so I used the lines and changed elevations to match the construction drawings. After creating a third polyline for the perimeter, I used the software to create the TIN file.

My model was also used by the dirt contractor to grade the field. The contractor’s grader box was equipped with a Topcon mm-accurate GPS system.

Overall, for this project, the Sokkia GPS made my job a lot easier. I used the total station to align the precast seating on the second floor of the stadium because the overhanging roof blocked satellite access, but almost everything else was laid out using GPS.

The ball field was laid out to grade using only the GPS units and was checked by an independent survey company with total station on a 10-foot gr
id. All elevations were plus or minus .02′.

All of the anchor bolts were set with the total station and checked with the GPS prior to pouring. We ended up having only four bolts out of 2,000 out of spec.

The GPS was very durable and I had little downtime. During the project, Sokkia issued software to upgrade the receivers to make use of the GLONASS satellite constellation, and Chet was able to install it in the field.

We consistently ran with ten to fifteen satellites until about 1:00 p.m., and then with eight in the afternoon (which is excellent performance, since most Baton Rouge GPS systems go down between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. for lack of satellite coverage). The Sokkia System allowed us to work within the project’s time constraints without having to wait on a GPS system that didn’t fix or hold a signal all day, every day.

After 18 months on the site, my team turned the new Alex Box stadium over to the LSU Fighting Tigers in November 2008. The first game in their new home was played on schedule against Villanova on February 20, 2009. In front of a standing-room-only crowd of 10,019 fans, the Fighting Tigers won.

Forest Crump is a superintendent and field engineer with Buquet & LeBlanc, Inc., in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A 1.414Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE