Rodeo arena prep involves lots of dirt

By ALYSSA BURZYNSKI/Montana State News

Long before the competitors arrive with their horse trailers and the crowd fills the arena, the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse is in preparation for the spring rodeo.

Brick Breeden Fieldhouse after it has been transformed into a rodeo arena.
Brick Breeden Fieldhouse after it has been transformed into a rodeo arena.

The Brick Breeden Fieldhouse’s unique design lends it self to the rodeo better than most indoor facilities since it is “the largest domed structure in the western hemisphere without a center support,” according to the Montana State Bobcats website.

“For this year’s rodeo, 6,692 tickets were sold,” according to Michelle Cook, Montana State University ticket manager. Saturday night’s ticket sales filled over 3,000 seats of the possible 4,867, a spectacular turnout for the rodeo, says Cook. But none of this would be possible without the nine months of planning that the Montana State University facilities office does.

In mid-July the first contract is signed, between MSU and the company that will be setting up the fieldhouse as a rodeo arena. MSU has used Sime Construction for the last eight years, since transforming the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse into an arena takes specific machinery and skilled workers, according to Ron Pike, president of Sime Construction.

“The dirt is stored out in concrete bunkers, on the property just over there. We use the same dirt every year for the rodeo,” says Melanie Stocks, director of Sports Facilities and Conference Services at Montana State University. “MSU also owns most of the equipment needed for the arenas transformation.”

“This year no sand was added and it had a great consistency,” says Stocks. She attributes this to the minimal snowfall that Bozeman has had in the past few weeks.

Depending on the last seasons and the previous weeks weather the dirt can be manipulated to the ideal rodeo arena consistency.

“If the dirt is too dry an irrigation process will occur and if it is too wet the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse turns on its central exhaust fans, evaporating the excess water,” says Stocks.

Before the dirt is transported into the arena, the 55,000-square-foot fieldhouse must be prepared to hold hundreds of fans, competitors and their animals. About 250 volunteers, 10 MSU staff members and 20 students take part in the process.

The first step is to “Clear the arena and lay about 55,000 square feet of tarp to protect the floors from dirt and the damage caused by livestock,” says Stocks.  “From there a layer of plywood is placed down,” creating a new base-floor for the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

Heavy-duty plastic sheeting is lined over the plywood, “layering upwards on the bleachers, in hopes of keeping the dirt in a confined space,” Stocks.  The plastic only rises a few feet over the lower bleachers, trying to minimize the number of seats that can’t be occupied.

Within the following days the rodeo team is recruited to finish up the final transformations.  About 30-40 rodeo athletes lay the final level of plywood and head home for the night, says Mike True, rodeo head coach.

“At 6 o’clock on Monday morning the dirt begins to move,” says Stocks. The process takes about eight hours using skilled volunteers and specialized machinery. The arena stays up throughout the week before the rodeo, but is removed right after finals on Sunday night.

“The rodeo is left in place so the dirt and all the plywood can settle. This makes a better competition arena, also it is easier to involve volunteers and rodeo team members on the weekends,” comments Stocks.

To remove the bulk of the dirt, Sime Construction “brings paddle wheel scrapers into the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse” according to Pike, along with a full-sized dump truck. Once the majority of dirt is removed the rodeo team comes in for a preliminary sweeping.

“The day after the rodeo was over I went in and striped plywood from all of the platforms and winner’s podiums that were built before the rodeo started. Most of us who volunteered to take everything down were there for three to five hours,” says Sarah Wright, rodeo team member.

A group of residence life custodians and facilities staff sweep the fieldhouse with a compound cleaner to remove the heavily settled dust. They finally use scrubbers to collect what remaining dust is left. “Dust collects on the railings and piping and continues to fall even after our heavy cleaning,” say Stocks.

“A cleaning crew is necessary after an event like the rodeo. Not only does the arena floor have to be cleaned but we have to clean up after the audience,” according to Stocks. She went on to say “This year we had to clear the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse quicker than normal. As the cleaning crews were finishing, the PowPow was being set up.”

After about nine months of planning, two weeks of preparation in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse and one weekend of the rodeo, a “great event took place. Truly a Montana atmosphere,” Stocks says.

-Edited by Madeleine Sherrier

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