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Becher's Bytes: Constructing the Future

by Jonathan Becher @jbecher /

When you're in the business of live sports and entertainment, you're used to thinking there is no off-season. Sure, our flagship offering is the NHL San Jose Sharks but we host nearly 200 events in SAP Center every year. And that's not even counting our other three buildings in Northern California.

But 2020 has been a year unlike any other.

Like so many other businesses shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, sports and entertainment organizations had no playbook for how to operate during these unprecedented times. The last time none of the four major U.S. sports leagues played in the month of April was 1883 - before basketball was even invented.

A crisis forces every organization to think differently and experiment with new ideas. We came up with some novel ideas on how to engage fans with simulated games and digital activations. We found new uses for our building, including as a free, walk-up COVID testing site.

Thinking differently didn't end there. Arenas have long-term capital repair plans with multiple projects of varying lengths. These projects take months of planning and coordination prior to the actual construction process - with very tight timelines. A multi-month project might need to be broken up over multiple years so as not to disrupt events in the building.

Like every year, we had a full slate of projects carefully orchestrated for Summer 2020. Given it's unlikely we will ever again have such a long period without events in the building, we asked ourselves some difficult questions: what projects should we continue and, more importantly, what could we do during this extended shutdown that could truly make a difference?

We decided to double down on improvements to the SAP Center. We recommitted to the existing scheduled projects including replacing the escalators, implementing a new building management system, replacing two air conditioner chillers and our main brine chiller, and refurbishing our main cooling towers. But, with ownership approval, we also decided to proactively replace the entire rink floor and refrigeration system. This a huge, multi-million-dollar project which wasn't even in the capital repair plan. 

While neither the rink floor or refrigeration system were failing, they were original to our 30-year-old building and it was only a matter of time until we would have had to retrofit them. Replacing them now allowed us to avoid a future 4+ month period during which we couldn't have any events.

In all, the project will take 76 days to complete and is scheduled to be ready for the holiday season. We would be remiss if we did not thank our construction partners, Rinktec and B32, for their tremendous work and commitment to this project. Truly the spirit of Teal Together.

Tweet from @SanJoseSharks: TANK TIMELAPSE!Here's a look at some of the construction that's been happening at @SAPCenter while we've been away.Learn more:

This may all sound exhausting but it's also exhilarating. We decided to turn our longest-ever offseason into the busiest and most aggressive one in our 30-year history. Along with our anticipated annual capital projects, we upgraded an essential and key component to our business which will provide a more efficient, eco-friendly, and - most importantly - improved ice.

Want to "geek out" on the details of the project? Read on…

The original system and floor were fed by a doubleheader system, each main feeding the floor from both ends of the rink. We redesigned the floor system using new technology with a single header system that allows the increased flow to and from the chiller plant. We removed our old R-22 refrigeration plant and replaced it with an eco-friendly 513A refrigerant system. We also upsized our brine pumps to increase the flow of coolant, allowing for greater heat transfer. All of this means better ice to skate on.

It might sound straightforward but it wasn't. The rink floor is 17,000 sq ft of concrete. We had to cut each section of floor in 3' X 3' squares (6" thick), weighing 780 pounds each. We had to remove 20 miles of steel pipe reinforced by rebar and 34,000 sq ft of ridged insulation. And we had to backfill the old header trenches with crushed rock and concrete, reinforce the ice floor perimeter, and sawcut a new header trench within the rink field. All of this had to be done before we could reinstall the new infrastructure.

Installation of the new floor started by forming a header trench with rebar and concrete. We included extra subfloor heating and insulation to ensure the constant cooling doesn't go past the base concrete slab; this could cause the floor to heave if it reaches the groundwater table. We created a vapor barrier using a "sandwich' of plastic visqueen and 4-inch high-density insulation (think of the plastic as the bread).

Tweet from @jbecher: The 10 miles of pipes are now in place under the floor in @SAPCenter. Next step: pouring concrete #SJSharks #NoOffseason

We used an intertwined grid of rebar and pipe chairs to provide the floor structure before adding the 20 miles of new piping. It took 9 welders to weld each 60' length segment together to form the final piping grid. Once all the piping had been welded, the entire system had to be pressure tested for several days to ensure there are no leaks.

At that point, the final ice structure is starting to come together. We included a variety of anchors to support the wide range of events in the building, from dasher boards to circus anchors. These anchors ensure the dashers are stable when hockey players collide into them! We also added a series of temperature sensors throughout the floor tied into our building management system to allow our engineers to control ice temperatures.

On October 23, we began the final stage of the process: the concrete pour. There is a specific concrete formula for ice rinks which has less water and therefore much harder than a regular concrete floor. The process was a single continuous 6" thick pour over 6 hours and took 25 concrete trucks to supply the job. 

Tweet from @jbecher: Six hours (!!) of pouring concrete for the rink floor replacement at @SAPCenter. Afterwards, it needed to cure for at least 30 days #NoOffseason #SJSharks

Once the floor is poured, the refrigeration pipes will be about 1 ¼" below the finished surface. The entire floor is covered in plastic to keep the moisture in and allow the concrete to cure slowly (making it harder). The floor will have to cure undisturbed for a minimum of 30 days before use.

I also would like to send my thanks to our Senior Vice President of SAP Center & Sharks Ice, LLC, Jon Gustafson, for providing the details on the rink floor replacement project.

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