As the spring semester comes to a close, the College gears up for two of the biggest weekends of the year – A Charleston Affair and Spring Commencement. Each event draws thousands of visitors to campus.
Cistern Yard and other surrounding landmarks on campus are transformed to accommodate the events. The stage is assembled, the grounds are spruced up, and safety checks are completed.
Setting the Stage
Despite taking three days to assemble, planning for the stage setup in Cistern Yard begins after the winter break. As the number of graduates hones in, the dimensions of the stage are set. Scott Bradley, Project Coordinator with the Physical Plant, lays out the required weight bearing locations on the cistern before the stage is constructed.
The stage serves as an essential platform for Cougarpalooza, A Charleston Affair (ACA), and Spring Commencement. Since 2009, the College has worked with the same contractor. Before using a contractor, Physical Plant personnel installed the stage.
Typically, 20 people work to assemble the stage. One or two come from the St. Louis area with Klance Staging. The others are Charleston locals who do installations on the side. Several of them are also firefighters.
The extensive three-day process requires street blocking permits, parking passes for workers, and cooperation from the College community as Cistern Yard undergoes transformation.
Sprucing the Grounds
While the stage serves as a focal point, no event would be complete without an ideal ambiance. The Grounds crew, led by Paty Cowden, does a remarkable job maintaining the beautiful scenery around campus. The spring flower order arrived on April 10 and grounds crew members are still in the process of changing out over 200 container gardens (hanging baskets, planters, etc.) as well as several beds on campus.
All event areas for ACA and Commencement are prepped by pruning shrubbery, weeding the beds, and putting down fresh mulch. This year, Grounds is using 750 red and white geraniums, as well as greenery gathered from around campus and from Dixie Plantation, to decorate the stage in Cistern Yard for the undergraduate ceremony. The stage at TD Arena will also be decorated for the graduate students’ ceremony.
Each year brings new challenges. With ACA just one week prior to Commencement, Grounds will have to work harder to clean up and attend to last-minute items. Last year, Grounds spent hours picking up seemingly endless shards of plastic cups in Cistern Yard. One challenge that they face this year is working around the honors award ceremony. The ceremony will be held in TD Arena on Friday, the same day the stage is decorated. Cowden and her crew will be required to work for a few hours, and return after the ceremony to complete the decorating.
In order to ensure the safety of the guests, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) is responsible for stage inspections and evaluating trip hazards and other structural issues.
Randy Beaver, Director of EHS, conducts checks each day for the three days leading up to ACA. A final stage check is conducted Saturday morning, before vendors and service stations are assembled. Safety inspections will also be made on all tents used for ACA.
During the event, a home base is set up in the Classics classroom on the third floor of Randolph Hall. This aerial lookout enables Beaver and his safety crew (campus safety and crowd control) to ensure guest safety. The home base is also used during Commencement.
In addition to checking the safety of physical assets, EHS monitors any form of questionable weather. Come Friday morning, the day before ACA cocktail party festivities, Beaver must make a go/no-go decision. A no-go decision means the event will take place in TD Arena versus Cistern Yard.
Another safety check is conducted following ACA weekend, to ensure the integrity of the stage. Any issues are addressed, and the stage is inspected again in the days leading up to commencement.
Thank you to the Physical Plant, Grounds, and Environmental Health and Safety crews for helping to make these events both safe and special.