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Layton Turns Problems Into Smooth Skating at Olympic Oval

Sat January 13, 2001 - West Edition
Alicia Blater

The optimistic adage “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” is fitting for an Olympic speed skating oval in Utah. The project has had its share of problems yet the outlook remains positive for those involved.

“We look at it as a pretty expensive pot of lemonade we made, but we’re going to make it the best job we can,” said Alan Rindlisbacher, director of corporate marketing for chief contractor Layton Construction Company Inc.

Their best will hopefully produce the world’s fastest ice when the 2002 Olympians arrive to race at the Oquirrh Park Speed Skating Oval in Kearns.

“Our goal, and the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee’s goal, from the beginning was to create the world’s fastest ice,” said Rindlisbacher. “With all the recent advances, this building and that ice sheet have been created to set the best times and we hope that comes about.”

By pairing the latest in architectural know-how with construction precision, athletes and spectators will both find a facility that exceeds expectations. The Oval’s unique design allows the roof to be positioned about 20 ft. (6 m) lower than a conventional roof, reducing the building’s volume and allowing better control of the temperature and humidity inside the venue. Nearly 5 acres (2 ha) of white PVC membrane roofing materials have been installed to reflect heat that normally would be absorbed into the building.

Creating the fastest times on the ice is truly a science that requires perfection. Crews recently got a taste of just how perfect that ice had to be when it was discovered that the cooling tubes, spaced a couple of inches apart underneath the entire oval, had risen slightly in several sections. Somehow these cooling tubes were lifted in the process of pouring the concrete.

“When the tie wires loosened, stretched or broke in several areas, the tubing went up too high and was too close to the surface. That would have made the ice colder in some areas,” said Rindlisbacher.

The distance is enough to create inconsistencies in the ice. The problem would never be an issue to the recreational skater, but could make the difference between winning and losing for elite athletes.

“We figured there was no more than 100 sq. ft. (9 sq m) of the oval out of 53,000 sq. ft. (4,770 sq m) that posed a problem. But 99.8 percent perfect wasn’t good enough,” said Rindlisbacher.

Replacing the 100 sq. ft. wasn’t an option because it would create seams, which could have the same impact as the errant cooling tubes. The jackhammers and backhoe were brought in to tear up the entire 1,320-ft. (400 m) oval just 22 days after the base was poured. A new base of 975 cu. yds. (741 cu m) will be poured soon.

Placing the concrete was the 13th layer of a 14-layer process. Beneath the concrete is an intricate layered system of the materials needed to create the ice surface. Once the concrete is cured, it is completely cleaned, including a soap and water scrub, to remove any impurities from the surface.

Then the ice-making process begins. The temperature of the new concrete must be “pulled-down” slowly, at a rate of three-degrees Fahrenheit (minus 16-degrees Celsius) per day, until the surface is 18-degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7.7-degrees Celsius). This “pulling down” is accomplished via hollow refrigerant tubes placed in a continuous loop beneath the concrete. The process begins by circulating cold brine through a shell and tube heat exchanger called a brine chiller. Liquid ammonia is fed into the brine chiller where it cools the brine, which is then circulated to the Oval through a pumping system. Once the ideal temperature is reached, water is applied systematically to create the ice sheet.

Unfortunately, the problem with the concrete was the second major catastrophe since construction on the $29-million facility began in June 1999.

In April 2000, there was the partial collapse of a section of the suspension bridge cabling that holds up the roof over the Oval. In very simple terms, the accident occurred when a pair of bolts sheared laterally. The previous pairs of bolts held and were not damaged. Three construction workers received minor injuries. To remedy the problem, crews halted construction and devised a plan to add strength.

“We corrected the problem by essentially beefing up the system,” said Rindlisbacher. “I liken it to a steel shoe box that was placed over the existing structure and holes were bored through pile caps to provide variety in holding down the frame.”

This facility is one of about 30 buildings with the roof supported by suspension. The facility features 24 masts — 12 on each side, 50 ft. (15 m) apart. Each mast weighs about 20 tons (18 t). The main suspension cable is 3 in. (7.6 cm) in diameter and holds the roof in 10 locations. The booms are held down with five H-piles that are driven 50 to 80 ft. (15 to 24 m) into the ground. These piles act like big tent stakes. The uplift force of the cable at each pile cap is 650,000 lbs. (292,500 kg). This suspended steel cable roof helped to reduce the roof load by about 1,200 tons (1,080 t).

Both of these major challenges have set the completion date back about three months. The new date works fine for the 2002 Games, but a few national competitions planned for this facility have had to go elsewhere.

“We’re working some pretty long shifts but we haven’t had to do anything extraordinary to pick up the pace. We’ve just got a good bunch of people who are committed to the project,” said Rindlisbacher.

The Oquirrh Park Olympic Speed Skating Oval, designed primarily by Salt Lake City architects Gillies Stransky Brems and Smith, is meant to catch attention. Rindlisbacher and others on the project have commented that as NBC broadcasts the 2002 Games to billions of people around the world, they’re expecting a helicopter cameraperson will want to show this awesome building set against the mountain background.

“Each of the buildings in the Winter Games at Nagano cost about 10 times as much as ours. We decided to use the budget available and said we’re going to design and build a technically complete building with an architectural flair,” said Rindlisbacher. “I think we should tip our hats to the architects both locally and outside consultants brought in.”

Work on the monumental task of construction is nearing completion. Crews continue to add the finishing touches where they can while the concrete is being redone. About 60 subcontractors were brought in to participate in the somewhat rare opportunity of constructing an Olympic venue.

“We put these same standards of excellence on every project, but it’s not just another building to us. Everyone has sensed there’s something special about this one. It’s unique and our challenges have heightened the profile, but when we watch those skaters flying around that track we can say we’re part of that success,” concluded Rindlisbacher.

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