Video: Click here to see video from Thursday's ceremony at Memorial Stadium.
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LINCOLN — Eight stories in the air, Spencer Beethe and Don Stephens secured the last steel beam atop the Memorial Stadium expansion Thursday.
The notes of “There Is No Place Like Nebraska” rang out from Mueller Tower as they waved the construction crane off for the final time.
On the ground below, University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials and their fellow workers from Davis Erection clapped and cheered.
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They had gathered for a “topping off” ceremony that marked a milestone in the progress of the east side expansion project.
The $63.5 million project will bring the capacity of Memorial Stadium to about 92,000, making it among the biggest stadiums in college football.
Fans arriving for Saturday's game against Southern Mississippi will already find a radically altered stadium and may have to dodge construction to get into the stadium.
John Ingram, associate UNL athletic director, said the project is on track and on budget to be completed by July next year, in time for the first football game of the 2013 season.
The project includes about 3,300 new general seats, between 2,000 and 2,500 new club seats and 38 new skyboxes. It also includes about 50,000 square feet of space for research that UNL officials say will bring together athletics and academics in an unprecedented way.
“In this facility there's going to be great things happening on Saturday afternoons and great things happening Monday through Friday in research,” said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.
The Nebraska Athletics Performance Lab at the north end of the building will focus on areas critical to increased performance and health, such as nutrition, psychology and learning and technology.
The south end of the building will house the planned Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, which will use imaging technology to better understand the biology of behavior and performance. The center director, Dennis Molfese, heads a multi-university effort to study head injuries in sports.
In brief remarks before the 545-pound beam was lifted off the ground, Athletic Director Tom Osborne praised all those who had worked on and contributed to the project.
He gave special thanks to the fans who have been part of a 50-year tradition of sold-out games.
“We're always grateful to our fans, our donors, our regular season ticket-holders,” he said.
Osborne and Perlman then joined John Sampson, president and CEO of Sampson Construction, and Prem Paul, UNL vice chancellor for research and economic development, in signing the final beam.
Workers from Davis Erection had previously inked their names on the beam and had affixed an American flag and a small evergreen tree to its upper side.
The tree is an ironworker tradition symbolizing a job done safely. The flag salutes freedom and patriotism.
The final beam was placed just to the north of the historic Gate 20 entrance. The project was designed so the original entrance will remain visible behind a three-story glass wall.
Ingram said the east side expansion, like the west one before it, is a totally separate building from the original stadium. The two will touch only where a rubber gasket is installed to keep out moisture.
He said the approach was necessary because the original stadium, which was built in 1922, cannot support the additional weight.
The final height of the new addition will nearly match the West Stadium expansion that was completed in 1999.
The final capacity of the new expansion will be determined when construction gets further along and precise measurements can be made, Ingram said.
But he said the general seating will have 20 inches of bench space per person — 2 inches wider than in older areas of the stadium. It also will have more leg room.
He expects the project to be fully enclosed before the football season ends.
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Fun facts about East Stadium expansion
» Used 10,000 cubic yards of foundation concrete, enough to build a sidewalk from Lincoln to Omaha.
» Used 4,295 tons of steel, equal to the weight of 223 Nebraska football teams.
» Used 795 tons of reinforcing steel to date, enough to nearly cross the state from South Dakota to Kansas if laid end-to-end.
» Will include 144 toilets and 55 urinals.
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln