Workers spend long nights converting floor

Some of the hardest working athletes in Magness Arena are the ones nobody ever heard of.

They perform without uniforms, cheerleaders or fans. They get no applause and earn no credits. They start near midnight and sweat ’til dawn. They show up in blizzards and work on holidays.

They are unknown and unsung, but without their effort there would be no hockey action to cheer for, no basketball games to watch, no concerts to enjoy.

They are transformers, converters, and technical wizards who set up, knock down and kick-start Magness into whatever shape it needs to be.

Crews showed up at 5 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving — a University holiday — to set up for a concert that night. When the music was over, they reconverted the arena for a hockey game Saturday, then set up for another concert Sunday, a basketball game Monday, and back to hockey on Tuesday.

Each conversion — from hockey to basketball, for example — takes eight to 10 hours. Setting up to capacity — called a full flip — consumes two days. Doing the work takes a full-time crew of four plus up to 20 workers hired from a day-labor service.

Ken Parish is a six-year conversion veteran who used to be on that labor gang. He knows how hard the conversions can be.

“People come in and say, ‘Oh, it’s basketball today.’ They don’t understand what all’s involved and how much work it is,” says Parish, who is interim conversion manager at the Ritchie Center.

How it works

Setting up for a basketball game, for example, goes something like this: First, piece together 272 four-by-eight-foot rectangles of fiberglass foam-matting onto the hockey rink to protect the ice. Then bring out fork lifts, crowbars and oversize hand carts to dismantle the “glass” that sits atop the rink walls, known as dasher walls. Some of the panels are plastic, but many are large, heavy, awkward pieces of glass easily shattered if they’re stressed the wrong way.

After the glass is removed come the nets, penalty boxes and benches, all of which must be carefully taken apart and stored.

Then there is the seating. For a big basketball event such as “Pack the House,” crews spin the north and south bleachers, then extend them over the dasher walls. The bleachers then connect to platforms that slope gradually to the floor. Seats are placed on the platforms and locked together to eliminate the chance of chair-tossing.

All that is done before they even start to put down the basketball floor. Laying the floor is a little like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, but each piece weighs 186 pounds and takes four people to set in place and sledgehammer tight.

There are 285 pieces. Which adds up to 26.5 tons not counting the goals, benches and scorer’s table.

Practice makes perfect

Before basketball season even began, crews put down and took up the floor four times — for practice.

Part of that was a safeguard. The floor was new to DU, having been used previously for the Women’s Final Four, then purchased by the University at a sizable discount.

“It was a put down and used for a series of games, but basically once,” Parish says.

DU crews had to check the floor’s finish and repainted logo, learn how the pieces were pinned together, then get used to assembling it.

“The first time we put it down was a nightmare,” Parish recalls. “It took us about nine hours.”

Humidity affects the floor and a dual pinning system makes the floor more difficult to link together.

“Our old floor we could probably set in about an hour,” says Eric Santivanez, a full-time conversion foreman who has missed only one conversion in five years. “This new floor takes about four hours.”

That’s if nothing goes wrong.

“We don’t have spare panels,” Parish says. “If we drop it and ding it, we repair it,” using wood putty, high-grade automotive enamel and polyurethane.

When the game is over and Magness needs to become a hockey rink again, the process goes in reverse — with a catch.

The ice has to be tempered to achieve the dense, hard surface the DU hockey team favors.

“We bring the ice temperature up to about 24 degrees, then bring it back down real slow to 15,” Parish says. “That heating and cooling process releases stress and makes the ice harder.

“The key to tempering ice is to bring it up quickly, then down one degree every eight hours.”

That’s not so easy. The arena temperature has to be lowered and the cooling system rerouted to direct energy to Magness. It’s a delicate process.

“If you don’t do it in advance,” Parish says, “there’s hardly anything you can do during the course of a game to bring the ice temperature down. It just takes too long.”

All of which has to be figured into the arena’s schedule.

“We may have basketball on Thursday, hockey on Friday–Saturday and basketball again on Sunday,” Parish says. “If you don’t preplan, you’re going to have problems.”

Unsung heroes

Then there are the predictable problems: cleaning the arena; repairing ice damage; keeping bands from tearing up the place; and coping with staffing deficiencies, injuries, equipment accidents and plain old confusion over how the arena is supposed to be set up.

No wonder Parish and Santivanez feel like unsung heroes.

“A lot of people think we change this floor around just by pressing a button,” Santivanez says. “It takes a lot of work. And what takes the most work is to make sure everything is right.”

Like making sure the basketball bounces right or there is extra room on the concert stage for cables.

“Little things like that really matter.”

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