When Turner Construction and Cochran Electric Co. began the design phase of the new stadium for the Seattle Seahawks football team, the company had to go further down the field than it could possibly have predicted.
For one thing, it was the late 1990s, and an economic boom was underway in Seattle, which was resulting in major downtown construction. This growth extended citywide and across the surrounding area. Construction workers were in extremely short supply, so Turner had the challenge of finding workers to demolish the Seattle Kingdome and then build a massive, 67,000-seat, open-air arena in its place.
The design team and subcontractors couldn’t know that an earthquake was going to strike in the middle of the project, liquifying the landfill on which they were building, and testing just how sound this structure would need to be. Turner provided construction management services for the interconnected three-building complex, totaling 1.7 million square feet, including a 2,000-car parking garage, 200,000-square-foot exhibition center and 67,000-seat (including 7,000 club seats) professional football/soccer facility. The stadium houses the National Football League’s Seahawks.
The king comes down
Seattle Seahawk fans were ready for a new arena. The 24-year-old Kingdome—which was also home to Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners—was notorious for its narrow concourses, 1970s-era design and AstroTurf. Seattle voters—who approved the public stadium financing—likened it to a mausoleum and asked for something open to the air. But more was desired: The city wanted to construct a stadium that reflected how Seattle was progressing.
“We were looking to make an architectural statement,” said Mike McFaul, director of facility operations at First and Goal Inc.
The city also wanted to take advantage of the stadium’s scenic location. With a design featuring an open end zone, there would be tremendous views.
Cochran Electric, electrical contractor, came on board with a design-build contract for the new stadium, parking garage and exhibition hall. Cochran provided design-build services for the entire main electrical systems—a $32 million electrical job altogether.
“The entire project—including the design, preconstruction and construction for the exhibition center, parking garage and the stadium—was bid in September of 1997,” said Larry Couch, project executive at the time, and now vice president of operations. The Kingdome was imploded in March 2000.
Detailing and coordination of a project of this magnitude was the greatest challenge.
“Three journeyman electricians—turned AutoCad detailers—worked extensively on detailing and coordinating electrical rooms, conduit pathway, cable trays, lighting fixture locations, and a myriad of systems equipment and components.” said Ken Rhodes, Cochran Electric superintendent.
At the time, downtown Seattle was full of construction projects, including Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners and the Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center. Although most stadium projects require more than 1,000 workers at a time on the job, there just weren’t that many to go around. To get it done, with less manpower, required flexibility for Turner Construction and Cochran Electric.
“A project this size is always a logistical issue,” said David Klopp, Turner Construction special project division operations manager, who was project manager at the time. “The resources weren’t there. We knew we couldn’t build in a normal sequence.”
Instead, the project was broken in half. Workers built the field toward the north, then cranes and equipment exited through the north entrance and returned to the south to begin the second phase.
“Being able to level the work force was the biggest challenge,” he said. He credits much of the success of the project to “keeping the team, the contractors and the owners in sequence.”
“We had plus or minus 153 electricians at peak,” Rhodes said, “Along with 30 low-voltage techs and installers and 15 electricians working for our subcontractors.”
Rhodes added that, compounding these challenges, was that “we were essentially dealing with a round building having radial and concentric gridlines. Given this type of gridline standard, our installation drawings often required dimensioning from three known locations so that our crews could hit the exact locations.”
Sheer size of the project was another hurdle.
“How do you eat an elephant? You break it up into smaller manageable pieces, staff it right, and then track your progress,” Rhodes said. “If you can find a problem early, you still have time to fix it.”
The new stadium would use the same power source the Kingdome had with some modifications, upgrades and relocations to accommodate the new facility, said Couch. Public utility Seattle City Light provided four main-tie, main 26-kilovolt (kV) services fed from two different feeders. Seattle City Light transformed the 26 kV into 480 volts.
After connecting to this system, Cochran Electric designed and installed four 4,000-ampere, 480-volt main-tie main service switchboards, along with all normal and emergency distribution switchgear and feeders, including one 1,500-kilowatt generator and all 277/480V & 120/208V system-associated duct banks.
Workers also provided the cable tray, transformers, panels and feeders, all power branch circuiting, and all lighting, including back of house and field lighting. Cochran subcontracted the field lighting supply and installation to Musco Lighting of Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Cochran Electric connected all feeders to the scoreboards and ribbon boards, all convenience and mechanical equipment power, and all concessions power, Rhodes said.
Cochran also connected all the audio/visual systems, including the public address system, Bowl Distributed sound system, closed-circuit-television and cable TV conduit and wire, the complete fire alarm system, and complete voice/data system.
The electrical contractor subcontracted to Dimensional Communications of Mt. Vernon, Wash., for engineering, smarts, parts and commissioning of the AV systems.
In all, Cochran Electric installed 3,756 miles of cable wiring—more than the distance between Seattle and Miami.
Earthquake shakes up construction site
On the morning of Feb. 28, 2001, the ground started shaking. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake sent every construction worker out of the building and put the partially completed structure to the test. Although the results could have been disastrous—being that the stadium is built completely on landfill, with no bedrock as a base—the structure rode through the earthquake with little damage.
“The job was shut down less than one day for structural inspections, some minimal damage found and back to work,” Rhodes said. “Older buildings in the area did not fare as well. The new stadium, as was the Kingdome, is built on fill [and] therefore is supported by thousands of pilings.”
McFaul was in the midst of a monthly construction meeting when he felt the ground shaking. By the time it stopped, he was able to examine the events center and stadium and found little damage beyond cosmetic cracks.
“There was some cracked drywall, cracked concrete. We didn’t lose anything and the emergency [evacuation] plan worked perfectly,” Klopp said.
For Seahawks fans, the entire experience is better. The stadium, which is now named Qwest Field, has 841 televisions, 80 flat-screen plasma televisions, four large display screens, one large-format video screen and Internet connections in all of the suites. The stadium also includes 740-foot-long roof trusses, 116 suites, two major club areas, 16 elevators and broadcast facilities. The total exhibition space is 491,000 square feet, including more than 350,000 square feet of contiguous space.
With vastly improved seating from its predecessor, the new stadium boasts 7,000 24-inch-wide club seats, 82 private suites with 2,000 seats, and 700 ADA accessible seats with 700 companion seats. End-zone seating is as close as 40 feet from the field and sideline seats were set at 52 feet.
Public amenities in the new stadium include 48 concession stands, restaurants and retail spaces; 63 restrooms; 11 elevators; 10 ATM machines and six first-aid stations.
The facility features a roof that shields 70 percent of the seats and views of the Seattle skyline, Safeco Field, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountain range.
“Qwest is a beautiful field,” said Polly Phillips, Mount Vernon, Wash., a regular ticket holder. “There’s not a bad seat in the place—you don’t feel like you’re far away. You feel much closer to the game.”
She, like other regular visitors, said she prefers having the games open to the air without the concrete roof that made the Kingdome infamous. She added however, that she was worried at first that the sound at Qwest Field would not be as good.
“The Kingdome was loud,” she said, “I really liked the loudness and I was worried Qwest wouldn’t be as loud.” After attending several games there, however, the volume level proved just as overwhelming for both players and fans.
“The first quarter of the Indianapolis game last year was the loudest I’ve ever heard,” McFaul said.
Construction of the new stadium was completed in July of 2002, Couch said, in time for the fall football season.
“Because of that logistical design, we were within a week of the schedule,” Klopp said.
There was no mad dash to the goal line or much overtime spent because of that logistical planning.
“It was the key to the success of the project,” he said. EC
SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.