Facilities Talk with Joe Simon

Facilities Talk with Joe Simon

Note: The following appears in the June issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.

By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications

Joe Simon joined Clemson Athletics in the summer of 2014 as an assistant athletic director for facilities management. He came to Tigertown after over a dozen years of experience in athletic administration at UNC Wilmington and the University of Central Florida.

We recently caught up with the Clemson administrator to discuss his role in the athletic department, and more specifically, within the facility enhancements.

Q: How did you ultimately end up at Clemson?

Simon: I was fortunate to spend almost nine years at the UCF. I was able to supervise multiple capital projects that totaled around $150 million. These projects included a new basketball arena and football stadium, and renovations to baseball, golf, rowing, softball and track & field. Having grown up in Boone, N.C., I had always respected and admired Clemson Athletics from afar. I saw all the projects that were on the horizon, so I thought it would be a good fit for me and a good step in my career. I took some of the lessons and experiences I had at UCF, and one thing led to another. It worked out, and I’ve been here almost a year now. I’ve certainly hit the ground running, with all the projects we have.

Q: What are your primary responsibilities with the facilities initiatives at Clemson?

Simon: My role is to serve as the owner’s representative, for all the capital projects and any smaller renovations as well. Anytime we have a design meeting, I’m involved on the front end. There’s a larger team involved in the design end. Obviously Dan Radakovich, our director of athletics, and Graham Neff, our associate AD, are involved as well. Once we get past the design element, I serve as the point person day to day with the contractor on behalf of the athletic department. I’m in weekly progress meetings, where we get an update on the construction schedule, the budget, those types of things. My involvement is every single aspect of the project, whether it’s the design meetings or procuring furniture. I don’t make decisions in a vacuum; we have a group of folks that weigh in on it. For me, it’s going from one project and one construction site to the next. I’m constantly walking the jobs, making sure I’m aware of the progress. It’s important to walk a project, because it’s another thing to see something three-dimensionally as opposed to on a plan. It’s important to walk and understand the facility as it’s coming up.

Q: Let’s look at some of those facilities. Baseball is the closest to completion. What all does the new expansion include?

Simon: It’s an exciting project; it was the first one I was able to be involved in. When I started here, it was pretty much ready to get going. We started construction in August 2014. It was a two-phased approach. The first phase required us to get the field level seats and the new dugouts done prior to the season. There were a lot of moving parts with that. You had the team practicing, we had to get the new field turf down, the artificial turf for the apron, and irrigation adjusted. We were happy to get that done for the first game. But the bulk of the project is obviously the player development area. The first floor includes a team lounge and eating area, locker rooms, restrooms, sports medicine, and locker rooms for the coaches. The second floor is the team meeting area, which will feature 42 theater-style seats. It’ll obviously be huge from a recruiting standpoint. Imagine a football Saturday. There’s a large deck to the side of this room, and they’ll be able to host recruits there. The third floor are offices for the coaches and full-time staff. They will have a conference room and some other work rooms. It’s about a 20,000 square foot building. It’s a major upgrade. As far as team amenities go, I’d put it up against any facility in the country.

Q: What’s the latest with Historic Riggs Field?

Simon: For the longest time, Riggs didn’t have a professionally designed drainage system. It’s wonderfully built from its time and it’s in a great space. But technology has changed, and we wanted to make sure we can utilize that to the fullest. We tore up the grass and installed a professionally designed drainage system. It’s incredibly important for the long-term health and care of the field. It will allow us to recover quicker from a rain storm. The field will last longer when it can drain better and stay clear of soot and debris that builds up over time. That project is going really well. We look to have the sod down in early July, so we have plenty of time to grow it in. We’ll be ready to play on it in August.

Q: Obvious progress has been made with the oculus and pedestrian bridge expansion in Memorial Stadium. What’s the latest? 

Simon: The project is scheduled to be completed in August, before the season. We’re excited to add an impressive architectural element to the stadium. But we’re just as excited about the functionality of the pedestrian bridge. Everybody wants to talk about the oculus. And maybe it has some mysterious powers that we don’t even know about, yet. But the pedestrian bridge will help free up space connecting the north and south side lower levels. We’re adding a stair on the exterior to the south side. Overall, we’ll visually be able to balance the WestZone better, in terms of entry stairs and glass, things of that nature.

Q: Speaking of football, the suite renovations seem to be moving along well?

Simon: The crews started the Monday after the South Carolina game, and they’ve worked incredibly hard, including weekends. We’re pleased with that project so far. We’ve completely gutted the south side. What you’ll see is from the president’s suite on over, it will feature 600 new South Club seats. We moved the press and operations suites down to the first level. That level will house our working media, in addition to our coaches, broadcast and radio booths. We’ll also have suites there as well. On the north side, we’re tearing out the ceilings and adding new air conditioning. We’re also adding Tempco windows. Every single suite can enjoy the open air. We’ve relocated the ITPAY suite closer to the WestZone. We want to thank the IPTAY board for moving its suite, which allowed us to sell their previous space. We will look to move furniture in mid-August, which gives us time to work out the kinks prior to the first game.

Q: Renovations began to Littlejohn Coliseum in May. How exciting is it to know how much more functional the arena will be next year?

Simon: A major component of this project is building our staffs a new basketball operations center. They will have offices, locker rooms, player lounge, weight room, and an enhanced practice court that will almost double in size. The facility itself is going to be on the south side, right off the Avenue of Champions. It’s going to be significantly larger than the annex that was there. From a recruiting standpoint, that will be a huge asset to both programs. Inside the arena, the court will be shifted, and we’re also adding a 400-seat premium club area. Our club will be unique; it will be below the concourse level. We’ve never had that before in the facility. We’ll also have courtside seats, as well as a new courtside club with glass so the seat-holders can see the team run on and off the court. The concourse and the upper level aren’t getting bulldozed. The main air conditioning system runs underneath the main walkway, so it didn’t make sense to tear that out just to rebuild it the same way. It will have an all new look and feel. We’ll open up the four corners. In the past, if you went out to get concessions, you were a little bit isolated from the action. Now, you’ll feel more engaged with the game the entire time. The connector between the south side and basketball operations center will be known as the south hall. It will be an approximate 10,000 square foot space with a high ceiling that will serve as the main entrance to the facility. It will say, ‘This is new.’ We’ll have some video boards in there. It will be tremendous on basketball gameday. On a non-basketball gameday, we’re excited by the opportunities this space will provide the university. We will have the flexibility to set up for a ballroom type special event for 400 to 500 people. The south hall will be a tremendous asset to the university, as we currently don’t have a space of this size on campus right now.

Q: We received initial approval for the football operations complex. What can you tell us about that project?

Simon: Basically, there are eight steps of approval over two rounds — three with the state, and one with our Board of Trustees. We’re through four of the eight, and because of that, we’ve been able to select and work with an architect the past couple of months. We’re starting to get into the floor planning stage and the conceptual design. We have an advertisement out for a contractor, so hopefully we’ll have those folks selected by the middle of July. We’ll then get cost estimates and continue with the design. Then, in the early fall, we’ll hopefully be ready for our second round of approvals. A lot of foundation work will have to go into this project that you won’t necessarily see. We hope to get that started in early 2016.

Q: We’ve seen the term ‘impact project’ a lot. What are some of those?

Simon: We touched on Riggs, which is classified as an impact project. Basically, they are projects that are less than a million dollars in costs. We just awarded a contract to renovate our golf practice facility. We’re adding some target greens, cleaning up some landing areas and tee boxes. That project should be complete this summer. We took part of the video board from Littlejohn, and moved it to Jervey Gym. We’re excited to have that completed.

Q: Where are we on the renovations to tennis and Vickery Hall?

Simon: We’re doing a feasibility study of Vickery Hall. When it comes time for actual construction, you can imagine there are going to be a ton of moving parts due to the location and function of that building. We would have to find a temporary home for that staff, while we renovate. That won’t be easy, because you don’t want to disrupt that group in the middle of a semester. You’ve got to be very strategic with that project. With tennis, recently started a feasibility study. We want to make sure we have six indoor courts. We currently have four. We would like to get some new offices and locker rooms for those programs included in that project as well.

Q: In other words, if you’re a Clemson fan or IPTAY member, there is great reason for excitement with all these new initiatives? 

Simon: Definitely. Part of our football stadium project includes the addition of a new sound system on the lower level. We’ll also be sprucing up restrooms, replacing some flooring and fixtures, and improving the appearance of those areas. It may not sound exciting, but it’s needed. We’re upgrading the distributed antenna system within Memorial Stadium. We want to thank all our IPTAY donors and sponsors, because without them, we wouldn’t be able to do all of these projects. We’re trying our best to have the impact be as minimal as possible with regard to construction traffic and parking during the upcoming football season. Our contractor with the Littlejohn renovation has really worked with us to lessen the impact to parking around that site. It’s definitely a busy, exciting time. I just want to thank everyone again for their support.