Years of planning and preparation by Emory staff culminate with opening of Olympics

Subtle signs of the impending Olympic Games had been appearing around campus for weeks. Small tables shaped like Coca-Cola bottle caps were seen outside of residence halls, athletes were beginning to practice at the P.E. Center, and banners were hung on light poles.

But on July 18, when members of the Emory community lined Clifton Road to await the arrival of the official 1996 Olympic Torch Relay, there was no doubt that the Olympics had come not only to Atlanta but also to the Emory campus.

Banners hung from the law and business schools. An inflated rainbow decorated the front of Egleston's Cystic Fibrosis Center, and patients from Egleston and residents from Wesley Woods were escorted to the sidewalk. Children from Clifton Child Care Center hiked up the hill with their own torches constructed of toilet paper rolls, tissue paper and aluminum foil, and a banner that read, "Clifton Kids Say `Let the Games Begin.'" Students from the School of Theology made banners and posters as they waited.

Scheduled to arrive at the intersection of North Decatur and Clifton Roads at 10:40 a.m. and travel up Clifton Road to Briarcliff Road, the torch was almost an hour late. A plethora of official cars and vans, along with vendors hawking Coca-Colas, preceded the torch. But when the torch arrived, there was no doubt. Those waiting were signaled by the cheers of the crowds that the torch had finally arrived. Between North Decatur Road and Briarcliff Road, the torch changed hands five times, then turned north on Briarcliff Road to finish its route through Atlanta and on to Olympic Stadium.

`We all pulled together'

For the many Emory community members who worked long hours to prepare for the University's Olympic visitors, the Torch Relay was a symbol of the unity of puprose that characterized the community's work. A non-competition venue, Emory was home to international media and competition officials, and Cox Hall was the site of the Press Operations Center for international media. The P.E. Center was a training facility for athletics, tennis, baseball and swimming.

"Emory has run extraordinarily well," said John Connerat, assistant to the director in the Publications Office and assistant venue manager for the campus. "The sports training has gone really well. The facilities are fantastic; the athletes are enamored of the place. The press operations are also very good as far as having a work space, and getting their stories out."

Handling accommodations, he said, has been a bit more of a challenge because of the nature of Emory's arrangement with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). While most organizations that come to Emory in the summer work through the University Conferences Office, ACOG simply leased the space from Emory, then hired a subcontractor, Scottford Enterprises, to manage all of the leased bed space.

"There has been a little bit of difficulty in terms of who was responsible for what," said Connerat. "Emory has done everything it possibly could do to accommodate the guests, but there are some things Emory would normally do that they were no longer allowed to do, because ACOG said, `This is our jurisdiction.' There were some hurdles to overcome at the very beginning concerning how best to handle the needs of the constituents."

Connerat credited Director of University Conferences Karen Salisbury and her staff with "putting in more work than you can possibly imagine to pull off a successful summer. Karen and her staff often were faced with the brunt of the issues when things didn't go well from the Scottford side, and they picked up the ball and responded to the situation."

One of those situations was a late-night disaster in Harris Hall. On July 21, a sprinkler head burst at 10:30 p.m. in the residence hall that housed mostly media and competition officials who were out at the competition venues. "Everybody came over to try to assist," said Connerat. Emory residential facilities staff, ACOG staff and even other guests grabbed brooms, mops and wet vacs and pitched in to get the water out of the building. "There must have been hundreds of gallons of water," said Connerat. "But it was really rewarding to see everyone pitch in, and no one pointing fingers."

That incident, according to Connerat, was just one example of the ways many Emory departments came together to make the Olympic experience go smoothly for those on campus.

On the periphery

Those not directly associated with housing, press operations or athlete training still were affected by Emory's involvement in the Olympics. The Emory Police Department was greeted the morning of Opening Ceremonies with a bomb threat for the "Woodruff Building." With five buildings bearing the name Woodruff, the police began their work. Managers of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building (WHSCAB), Woodruff Memorial Building and the Woodruff Library were contacted, and ACOG was contacted concerning the Woodruff P.E. Center and the Woodruff Residential Center. Although the police search found no evidence of anything unusual, police, University and ACOG officials made a joint decision to evacuate from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. since the caller had said the bomb was set to go off five hours after the phone call.

Although temporarily displaced, employees found other uses for the time they were forced to evacuate. "We went to lunch and went out shopping," said Kathi Ovnic, media relations coordinator in the Health Sciences News and Information office housed in WHSCAB.

The planning paid off

When David Anderson, ACOG's Emory venue manager, spoke at the June 11 management symposium, he predicted that ACOG's presence would not disrupt the campus. During the Olympics, he said, "The Emory campus should not be congested, bustling or even seem unusually busy."

Those predictions seem to have held, despite the minor glitches along the way. A few extra buses, a few more uniforms, a lot more early hours for employees have served as daily reminders of the Olympics. But overall, the months and years of planning have served the University well. According to Charlie Scott, Roads and Grounds manager in Facilities Management, outside of some flexible scheduling, the Olympics at Emory has really been "business as usual." However, he credits that to some "long, hot and heavy planning sessions." Overall, he said, "it looks like a very smooth operation."

-- Nancy M. Spitler

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