Take Me Out to the Ballpark Structures

3/29/2016 8:38:00 AM

Yeh Center
Yeh Center
CEE at Illinois professor Gholamreza Mesri (left) is pictured with alumnus Bill Bennett. 

Over the century-and-a-half of professional baseball history, the ballpark structures in which the games are played have evolved even more than the sport itself. Each fall semester since 2010, CEE at Illinois professor Jim LaFave (BS 86, MS 87) has taught a CEE 199 freshman discovery course entitled “The Structure of Ballparks.” The one-credit class, open to both majors and non-majors, traces the history of ballpark design and construction, primarily from a structural engineering perspective. LaFave, who is CEE Associate Head and Director of Undergraduate Studies, covers a wide variety of topics in the class, such as construction material selection and structural system options, as well as economic, functional and architectural considerations (incorporating sustainable site development and materials alternatives). The evolution of baseball stadiums from simple wooden structures to modern steel and concrete ballparks is examined, including treatment of cantilevered trusses, precast concrete components, facades and retractable roof structures. In addition to case studies of recent engineering designs and a local stadium site visit, practical examples are also drawn from renovations and expansions of historic baseball stadiums.

LaFave has enlisted the services of a number of CEE at Illinois alumni over the years as guest speakers in CEE 199. Jonathan Lewis (BS 99, MS 01), from Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., presented to the class a number of years ago about an investigation assessing falling concrete at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. More recently, Justin Barton (BS 04, MS 05), from Walter P. Moore Associates, gave a talk to the students in the class about the design and construction of Target Field, a 21st-century urban ballpark in Minneapolis. And just last fall, Bill Bennett (BS 91, MS 93), from Pepper Construction, spoke to the class about his involvement and leadership in the recent and ongoing renovations at Wrigley Field. Both Bennett and LaFave, who are eternally optimistic Cub fans, are hoping that this really might be “the year,” but in the meantime they each continue to enjoy the civil engineering aspects of ballparks, regardless of how the games are unfolding down on the field.