Jumbotron nears completion at Washington-Grizzly Stadium

Construction workers measure the area for the last LED scoreboard screen on the University of Montana's Washington-Grizzly Stadium Jumbotron.

OLIVIA VANNI, Missoulian

Those in the Lower Rattlesnake or University neighborhoods may have noticed an unnatural glow in the sky the past few nights. It's not the Aurora Borealis and no aliens have landed in Missoula.

It's the first signs of football season.

Washington-Grizzly Stadium's latest fan-friendly addition, a monster 55-foot-wide by 32-foot-tall video screen, has been going through its final tests since the beginning of its installation in June. Its thousands of tiny LED lights are being calibrated for use.

"They're burning in the LEDs so they get 'em all down to a consistent color," said Chuck Maes, Montana's associate athletic director for internal operations.

Corporate Technology Group, a Missoula-based networking and IT solutions business, has been running the high-definition GrizVision screen for hours at a time -- sometimes all night. The workers are checking for any inconsistencies in lighting brightness and color or other unforeseen problems.

Unfortunately, the all-night tests mean the lights haven't been going off just because the sun goes down. Mount Sentinel has been ablaze in a rainbow of revolving colors the past few nights.

"They let it run for quite a while because if there's anything that will go wrong with any of the boards, it's usually in the first 40, 50, 60 hours of use," Maes said. "They let it run through the night to let it burn in and they want to find those things before we need to really use it."

It's the same process Washington-Grizzly Stadium underwent the past two offseasons when the arena added LED ribbon boards, first to the north end zone towers and then last summer to the east-side plaza. Of course those checks were slightly less noticeable outside of the confines of the stadium.

Maes said the tests are all but wrapped up and the stadium's neighbors won't have to put up with any colorful light pollution in the near future.

The updated GrizVision, which is being financed entirely by UM's broadcast rights partner Learfield Sports, will be completed in August. Workers still need to calibrate the new speaker system and place the scoreboard header, which will cover the top and back portions of the board and its inner workings. The header is expected to be added by mid August along with a mesh cover for the speakers at the screen's sides.

The board construction is far from the only project ongoing at Wa-Griz this summer. The Montana University System Board of Regents approved the replacement of artificial turf earlier this month and the old playing surface has already been removed. Excavation for the Washington-Grizzly Champions center to the stadium's southwest side is also underway.

That project is expected to be completed for the start of the 2017 season.

The Griz kick off their 2016 slate at home against Saint Francis on Saturday, Sept. 3. That will be the first opportunity for most fans to see (and hear) the additions. They should get the full impact of the upgrades too, Maes said.

The home opener will be a night game with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

"New sound system, new video board and new field; it'll be nice in there," Maes said.

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