Exactech Arena comes to life after dark
When the crowds go home and the lights turn out, Exactech Arena seems peaceful from the outside, but inside the music's turned up and the heavy lifting begins.
With a crew of over four hundred, it takes an army to transform the O'Connell Center for various athletic events, concerts, trade shows and festivals.
“Most people don’t even realize it’s happening because it’s almost always in the middle of the night," said Associate Director of Facilities David Lucier. "We had a women’s basketball game on Thursday night and a gym meet on Friday night, and all that work happened in the middle of the night after the crowd left.”
While there are fifteen full-time employees, most of the crew consists of student workers. The students attend the University of Florida, Santa Fe and even local high schools.
“We put advertisements around the schools and just hire," said Lucier. "We give them the opportunity to shine and excel, and really just pull off these events.”
“I actually was a new kid on campus and found this in one of the local advertisements on one of the school newspapers and signed up," said UF accounting student and Manager of Changeover Division, Andrew Valancius. "Four years later I’m still here.”
There have been times when the work doesn't end until eight or nine in the morning.
"I either just go straight to class or take a late afternoon nap," added Valancius. "It’s just kind of find your sleep where you can, but it’s definitely worth it. When you spend nights here with a lot of people you get to become really close to them at 3 a.m. whenever you’re doing what you’re doing, so it’s been a good experience.”
The O'Connell Center's full-time employees began their careers as students, and it all began with an intense training program.
“There’s definitely a learning curve," said Lucier. "Some things are really tough to get to know, but other things are really simple. Some tables and chairs anybody can pick up right away, but there is some things that take a little bit of training to get to understand.”
While some students work in the arena as a way to generate income while attending school, like Valancius, others have been able to leverage the job into full-time gigs around the world. Some venues include the Superdome, Soldier Field, Shang Hai and even the Olympics.