After years of shimmying down narrow bleacher aisles and awkwardly trying to find the right number to sit on, the decision has been made to do away with Kenan Stadium’s aluminum bleachers and bring in individual seats with chair backs and armrests.
Through volunteer feedback and a number of surveys over the last couple of years, UNC’s Athletic Department asked fans to rank what is most important to them and how satisfied they are with their gameday experience. One area in particular showed the greatest discrepancy between rankings of high importance and low satisfaction — seat comfort.
During the 2017 season, UNC Athletics did a trial run and converted bleachers in sections 110 and 111 to seats with chair backs and armrests to increase comfort and improve the overall gameday experience. The plan was to collect feedback from fans in those sections to determine if similar large-scale renovations would be worthwhile. The Department received an overwhelmingly positive response from fans who sat in the new seats.
When it came time to address the removal of what would be hundreds of heavy aluminum bleachers, UNC Athletics partnered with the Sustainability Office and the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative to make sure the project was executed in an environmentally friendly way.
“We knew that they had the Three Zeros campaign underway, so as soon as we were contemplating what we were going to do as far as putting in chair backs and what we would do with the aluminum, we immediately reached out to them to figure out what was the absolute best way to do that from a sustainability standpoint," said Senior Associate Athletics Director Rick Steinbacher.
Launched fall of 2016, the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative is UNC’s united approach to reducing its environmental footprint through three sustainability goals: net zero water usage, zero waste to landfills and net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
“With a project this size, we work hand-in-hand with University Facilities Planning. Their project and construction managers advised us and that’s what led us to partner with a company that does great work with metals in the state of North Carolina. We knew they had a great reputation for not only doing great work, but very effectively recycling the material and making sure it would be put to great use moving forward,” Steinbacher said.
After a great deal of research, it was evident that the value of selling the metal would offset the cost of paying to remove the bleachers and power washing the stadium once the bleachers were gone. In the next few months, about 200,000 lbs. of aluminum bleachers will be sold to L. Gordon Iron & Metal Company, a family business from Statesville that specializes in recycling various types of metals, some of which may become aluminum beverage cans.
In addition to its partnership with the Sustainability Office, UNC Athletics works with its corporate partners throughout the year to encourage as much recycling as possible in and around venues. With thousands of fans cycling in and out, UNC Athletics works closely with Coca-Cola to ensure the best sustainability practice and the best way to educate those working within the department who help dispose and recycle materials.
“We spent a whole day at Coke's world headquarters in Atlanta, and one of the biggest topics we spent time on was hearing from their chief sustainability officer about how to do those things” Steinbacher said.
As venues are renovated and recycling programs expand, UNC Athletics adds another dimension to the gameday experience of its fans and the everyday experience of the greater Chapel Hill community. Steinbacher said he saw the immediate appreciation of the renovation at a lacrosse game he attended this weekend.
“All the fans and parents of players who were sitting around me were saying the same thing. I think anyone who comes to Kenan Stadium is going to benefit greatly from the project and enjoy a game day in Kenan Stadium even more," Steinbacher said.
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