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UNT preps for barrage of high school graduations

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

Over the next two weeks, roughly 100,000 people will visit the University of North Texas for 24 high school graduations — and facilities and security are prepared for the organized chaos.

Twenty-two of the graduations will be in the Coliseum, a goliath concrete building made for basketball, but most busy during graduation season, said Connie Verdin, associate director of the facility.

“Probably the most hectic time of year is this two-week period,” she said. “So many people come through the doors over that period, so there’s a lot of cleanup involved.”

There are seven full-time workers assigned to the Coliseum. Verdin and her assistant coordinate the dates and contracts a year in advance of the ceremonies while the five facility workers handle the setup and work the events.

They leave the floor and stage set up from the UNT commencement ceremonies, then work to maintain the facility. Employees plan in advance for the whirlwind, and flex the hours over the period to make sure no one is overworked.

To get families in the door and back onto Interstate 35E after the ceremonies, the UNT Police Department comes into play.

Officers sign up to work the events, and the overtime required to manage the events is budgeted, said Capt. James Coffey of the UNT Police Department. A minimum of five additional officers provide traffic direction and security, working to get people in and out as efficiently as possible.

“It’s become more of an art form than a science,” he said. “I do the best I can, and we try to minimize the disruption.”

Coffey, who has been coordinating traffic control for these events for 29 years, said getting in is easier than getting out. While police shut down North Texas Boulevard between Highland Street and Eagle Drive after the ceremonies, attendees still need to be patient and courteous while they are directed out of the area.

“The problem is at the end when everyone’s searching for their graduate, then getting them to the car and off to dinner,” he said. “It’s just too much pedestrian traffic for North Texas Boulevard.”

In addition to the graduates and attendees, there are also bands and choirs from the schools that come in to perform at the ceremonies, Verdin said. For her and the university, this is one of the best parts of holding the high school graduations on campus — it gives the younger attendees a chance to get to know UNT.

“It is a lot of time, but we look at it for the university as a possible recruiting tool because so many students come to campus that haven’t decided where they’re going to school,” she said.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.