When it comes to prepping the Schottenstein Center for crowds, Ohio State’s most valuable player isn’t an athlete: It’s a team of maintenance personnel.
As the home of OSU men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s basketball, the Schottenstein Center serves as a versatile athletic facility as well as a concert venue.
But when the sounds of cheering and the band playing “Buckeye Battle Cry” are done echoing through the Schott’s rafters, a less-celebrated team shows up to prepare the building for the next event.
That team is Mike Hollon’s conversion crew.
Hollon is the Schott’s full-time conversion coordinator and is in charge of the group that makes these vital transformations happen, sometimes late at night.
Whether it’s the hockey-to-basketball conversion — which involves breaking down the curved corner portions of the boards that support the glass and form the ice rink’s boundary, laying down the insulated flooring layer and then assembling the hardwood court on top of that — or vice versa, Hollon said it’s mostly students doing the work on his crews.
“Probably 90 percent of my staff are students,” Hollon said. “The ones who aren’t students have either graduated and worked for us as students whose jobs are in Columbus, and they do this part time for some extra money.”
Hollon said the arena’s bowl has an ice rink in it continuously between the months of August and February, which gets covered and insulated to accommodate other events.
He said a typical conversion job takes a crew of 25 to 30 people, including the supervisors, and the crew needs about five to five and a half hours to convert the ice hockey rink to a basketball court.
The reverse process takes a team of the same size about three and a half hours, he said.
Colton Everett, one of the conversion crew supervisors and a 2013 OSU alumnus, is one of Hollon’s part-time workers.
“(Converting from) basketball to hockey is easier because you tear more down than you build up,” Everett said. “Concerts are easy because the space is so empty.”
Mike Damas, director of engineering and housekeeping at the Schottenstein Center and Hollon’s boss, said the conversion budget for fiscal year 2013 was about $150,000.
Damas said paying the wages for the part-time workers — 68 of whom work under Hollon — accounted for $55,000 of that, and the remaining $95,000 went toward materials and the cost of maintenance and repairs.
“We’re self-funded at the Schottenstein Center. If we don’t make money off the events, we don’t have a budget,” Damas said.
Damas said the Schottenstein Center falls under the Office of Business Advancement, which governs the facilities on campus that generate their own revenue and aren’t funded by the university.
“The four main units of (the Office of) Business Advancement are, obviously, the Schott, the Blackwell hotel, the Fawcett Center and the Drake Performing Arts Center,” Damas said. “We have a zero-base budget, and we don’t get state money or money from students.”
A staff of about 15 supervisors, six or seven of whom are present at any given conversion job, aid Hollon in delegating tasks to workers upon their arrival.
Hollon said the basketball court is made up of 15 rows of 14 4-by-8-foot rectangles of hardwood that get joined together in an offset pattern similar to a brick wall. A 4-by-4-foot end cap is used on the 14-piece rows to make sure the court is rectangular instead of having jagged edges.
Hollon said he trains supervisors to take smaller teams of people to work at the arena’s north, south, east and west corners to portion up the job.
“They show up and sign in with security and then go to our storage space and get tools or gloves or whatever they need,” Hollon said. “Then the supervisors will split up and take their guys to each corner and get to work.”
Hollon said, though, the job isn’t predictable.
“When we interview someone for a position in the building, we ask them, ‘Could you have something completely unexpected drop in your lap?’ We have to be prepared for everything,” Hollon said.
He said occasionally, when equipment they use or something in the arena needs to be repaired for them to finish the job — whether it’s an electrical issue or something involved with the water system used to both create and melt the rink ice — the crew has to be flexible and maybe work a little later than they expected to.
He also said the experience level of the team determines how quickly a job gets done. He said if relatively new personnel are working on any given night, that can sometimes lengthen the crew’s shift at Schott as the new people learn the ropes and get hands-on training from supervisors.
He said the number of times the conversion is done depends on the time of year.
“The job is more seasonal, just like school because that’s when the teams are in season … concerts are usually the last thing to get scheduled, sometimes about two months ahead of time, sometimes longer,” he said. “But concerts get a really small (turnaround) window because obviously, the three athletic teams in this building take precedence.”
Everett said the positions can put a strain on students’ schedules.
“Going into it, you know. You have to plan out accordingly,” Everett said. “We had one guy who worked until 7 in the morning and then went straight to a midterm from here.”
Brice Schroeder, a third-year in criminology and a supervisor, said the overnight jobs can make life difficult.
“Usually you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Schroeder said. “If you have an 8 a.m. (class) after a long job, though, you may need to skip that one.”
Hollon said it’s a tiring job, but he enjoys it.
“It can be taxing. But I love it, I’d rather do this than an 8 to 5 every day,” Hollon said. “It’s exciting, and no day is ever the same.”