Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

There’s a lot of muscle behind the magic that transforms the Kohl Center from a basketball arena to a hockey venue.

When the Wisconsin men’s or women’s hockey team skates onto the ice at the Kohl Center, they’re just picking up where another team left off.

As the primary playing facility for four Badger varsity sports (men’s and women’s basketball and hockey), the center is a beehive of activity from October through March. Compared to many campus sports venues, switching from one event to another at the Kohl Center is more complicated and time-consuming. It takes several dozen workers to transform the facility from a basketball court to a hockey rink — and back again.

Opened in 1998 and named for Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl ’56, who donated $25 million to the project, the center’s two overhanging balconies guarantee that fans have excellent sight lines for watching both basketball and hockey action.

After a football game or tennis match, Camp Randall Stadium and Nielsen Tennis Stadium need only a routine cleaning and trash collection and they’re ready to go. The Kohl Center conversion, on the other hand, takes about three hours and a forty-person crew. And it isn’t a once-and-done situation: the ritual happens forty-five to fifty times per playing season.

Apparently practice makes perfect. Dan Wyatt, the Kohl Center’s building and grounds superintendent, says that everything runs pretty smoothly, as long as enough time is scheduled between games so the workers aren’t scrambling to finish.

“I’ve been doing it for nine years, and a lot of the people have been with me for the past eight or nine years,” he says. “As long as everybody stays in the routine and does everything in the proper order, it’s not too bad.”

So far, they have a perfect record: the conversion process has never delayed the start of a game.

From wood to ice …

Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

When the Badger women’s team or the men’s team play basketball at the Kohl Center, fans may have no idea what happens after the final buzzer sounds. As one of the first steps of the transformation, a crew quickly gets to work stacking courtside chairs.

Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

Meanwhile, Dan Wyatt, the center’s building and grounds superintendent (foreground) and lead worker Brian Dodge take down the basketball hoop. In all, it takes about 120 person-hours, or 40 employees working three-hour shifts, to convert the center from a basketball venue to a hockey facility.

Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

Essentially deconstructing a giant jigsaw puzzle, a worker uses a socket wrench to begin removing the basketball court’s 218 floorboards, which each weigh 123 pounds.

With the clock ticking, workers remove some of the bleachers. When shifting from the basketball court to the significantly larger hockey rink, seating for fans drops from 17,230 to 15,325.

… and back

Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

Excess ice needs to be scraped off by hand to allow installation of the panels that surround the hockey rink.

Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

Polar floorboards are sandwiched between the basketball court’s hardwood boards and the hockey rink’s ice. Constructed of high-density polyethylene and foam, these floorboards weigh 33 pounds each, and are much easier for workers to lift and carry away than the hardwood sections.

A novel variable-rise system lifts seats at the Kohl Center’s north and south ends, changing the facility’s seating arrangement in about six minutes.

Staff members at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison work to convert the arena space from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink

With many hands making light work, crew members have revealed the Motion W that sits beneath the ice rink’s surface. When a Badger hockey match gets under way, little do fans know that just hours before the face-off, a different sport altogether had been played above center ice.

Published in the Winter 2011 issue

Tags: Athletics, Badger, basketball, hockey

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