Go Huskies! Prime Electric

When Prime Electric Inc. (Prime) signed on to the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium renovation project, it had challenges ahead—the leanest possible project, large and complex design/build structural elements, and a short turnaround that would ensure the Huskies football team and its fans had a new home in which to play within 21 short months.


This was a perfect kind of project for Prime. The company uses a fully integrated project delivery (IPD) model, including lean construction modeling, multidiscipline prefabricated work processes, just-in-time deliveries of materials, and prefabricated subassemblies in the execution of all of its large projects. That expertise helped meet the need for fast and effective response to each step in the Husky Stadium project. 


The company was selected by the development team headed up by local Seattle developer Wright, Runstad & Co., and included 360 Degree Architecture, Turner Construction (for the stadium core) and Howard S. Wright Construction (for interior spaces). These spaces included a new Sports Medicine Center, Football Operations Building, Touchdown Terrace Suites and an upgrade to the Don James Center, which accommodates some of the university’s most tenured alumni.


The University of Washington’s outdoor football stadium was originally built in 1920 and, since then, has been through more than a half-dozen upgrades. The new stadium seats 72,500 fans, which is more than double its original capacity of about 30,000. 


In 2011, the stadium was due for renovation. Years of sellout crowds had led to significant structural problems in the south stands, a leaky roof and crumbling concrete foundation; it was a facility extended well beyond its life expectancy. 


The $280 million reconstruction included the creation of more spacious seating areas closer to the field, which was accomplished by removing the running track and lowering the actual playing surface by 6 feet. The scope of the project also included new lighting for most of the stadium. The entire west end of the stadium would also include new coaching facilities and conference rooms and an 83,000-square-foot Football Operations Building, featuring a workout area with hydrotherapy pools. On the east end, Prime would install an electric service for the Touchdown Terrace to include field-level, end-zone suites with bar and food services for VIP ticket holders.


Some elements, however, wouldn’t change. The stadium would maintain the features that have always made it unique. For instance, the U-shaped stadium was designed to face southeast to reduce early afternoon glare for athletes and to open up the stunning vistas of neighboring Lake Washington and Mount Rainier on the horizon. The renovation was specifically designed to bring improvements to the facility while showcasing its existing strengths.


From the onset, everything about the renovation was designed with lean construction in mind—minimizing waste of materials, time and effort to generate the maximum possible value for the customers—developer Wright, Runstad & Co. and the University of Washington. One example was the management of concrete. As part of the project, the existing concrete was crushed on-site and reformed to create the stadium’s new foundation subgrade.


The project was competed at the developer level in a “best value” competition said Dan Gemme, vice president and general manager at Turner Construction Co. 


“In Prime’s case, this meant developing a reliable and competitive budget on preliminary concepts developed for the proposal, then guaranteeing that this budget [which accounted for 10 percent of the overall construction budget] was viable to deliver the scope and quality promised,” he said.


Going lean


Prime gained its contract for the Husky Stadium core renovation project in August 2010 from Turner Construction’s Northwest Office in Seattle. Almost immediately, Prime began preparation, design and preconstruction services, which included cutting power to the south end of the stadium after the last football game was played in November 2011. From that time on, the clock was running. In the 20 months to follow, about 75 percent of the facility would be removed, replaced or renovated; the north stands were largely left intact. In the meantime, the UW Huskies football team would play one season at Century Link stadium in nearby downtown Seattle, home of the NFL Seahawks and the MLS Seattle Sounders FC.


“Rather than design according to an architect’s vision, then apply prices, we start with a budget,” said Paul Snorsky, vice president, Howard S. Wright. “Our MEP specialty contractors like Prime are heavily involved in that process.” 


In this project, lean construction meant employing building techniques that ensured no extra materials were required and prices never exceeded what was predetermined as necessary. That required close and frequent planning between both general contractors and these members of the team. Typical planning took into account the necessary lighting controls and scheme needed for a specific space that would meet the budget, and then schematically designing a system that met the owner’s vision while also meeting the budget.


Prime’s efficient material-management system features a logistics center where equipment, such as fixtures, can be broken down, prepared for installation and then delivered to the project site as needed. 


“We’ve seen a substantial reduction in production cost and time improvement by using this model,” said Eric Reichanadter, president, CEO and majority shareholder, Prime Electric. 


The company had a small window to complete its design, order equipment, secure permits and deliver project approach to Turner Construction and Howard S. Wright.


To ensure equipment wasn’t on-site until needed, but could be quickly accessed, workers constructed custom bins stored on racks at the company’s warehouse for just-in-time delivery. Those bins were then returned to their home office for use on the next project. All refuse and containers for materials delivered were removed and recycled when arriving on-site.


Due to the schedule restrictions imposed by the football season, “Getting our detailers engaged with BIM modeling at the onset was a key for us,” said Danny Thomas, Prime’s project executive and associate principal. 


The crews held weekly BIM coordination meetings as well as pull planning meetings that were attended by all the trades.


Safety was central to each aspect of the renovation. Prior to the project, Prime conducted a Job Hazard Risk Analysis to rate the safety challenges and go over the game plan for the entire project to ensure no unnecessary risks were taken. This was then followed and monitored on a day-to-day process. The entire construction crew took part in weekly safety meetings as well as daily huddles and pretask planning.


“Fortunately, we had no safety issues, but from day one, the project certainly posed safety challenges,” Thomas said. “We have an exceptional safety program and are fiercely committed to all of our craftsmen going home at the end of the day.”


Power and lighting


The stadium’s distribution network consists of a medium-­voltage loop for which Prime ran the 13.8-kilovolt power from the west and south end of the stadium. It installed a new transformer with a 2,000-ampere service to serve the entire site with temporary power during the construction. That included not only the south, east and west portions of the stadium (the north end had its own service) but also the outlying Waterfront Activities Center (WAC) building and the UW Boat House. Construction crews used the stadium’s Don James Center for temporary offices.


[SB]When it came to lighting, some of the existing high-bay arena lighting and poles could be reused following the remodel. During the 2000–2001 football season, the Seattle Seahawks played at Husky Stadium while Century Link Field was under construction. At that time, Husky Stadium had installed professional NFL-approved lighting, which still provides the high-quality lighting that meets both NFL and NCAA standards.


However, Prime also went through the stadium and relamped the north roof lighting and renovated the existing poles on the east end. The workers then reinstalled the old lighting once the new roof was constructed. To accomplish this, Prime installed 360 feet of new cross-arm material and vertical supports on the south roof to coincide with the removal and reinstallation of all those lights. Prime safeguarded the old fixtures in a warehouse where existing lamps were replaced. Prime also relocated some stadium light poles on the east end to accommodate the new field-level suites building.


By conducting lighting work off site, “Prime played a large role in the preplanning of high-risk work activities,” Gemme said. “The stadium lights and conduit paths were preassembled and attached to the structural truss members while on the ground. This drastically reduced the number of man-hours of work above ground in the high roof areas of the stadium.”


Altogether, Prime installed 4,861 lighting fixtures for the stadium, 1,103 in the Football Operations Building, 578 in the Sports Medicine Center, 107 in the Don James Center, and 139 in the Touchdown Terrace. 


For power redundancy, Prime installed a 750-kilowatt diesel generator. In total, it installed 140,000 feet of metal-clad cable and nearly a quarter million feet of electrical metallic tubing (EMT) hard-walled conduit. Company electricians also installed 2,500 feet of galvanized steel conduit and 100,000 feet of PVC conduit for underground installations.


Digital documents


Prime, together with the general contractors, also innovated on document controls, by eliminating the need for rolls of paper carried by staff on-site, and instead provided project managers with iPads that employed the stadium’s Wi-Fi connection to automatically access documents digitally. Once a foreman or supervisor entered a password into the app, he or she could reference any documents.


“And that gave them a direct portable access for drawing review,” Reichanadter said. 


The users could also post hyperlinks for additions, such as lighting fixture submittals that could be accessed by field crews to give them real-time information on materials and coordination elements throughout the project. Requests for information could be added, and details could be highlighted based on whether they were resolved. Using mobile devices, as well as application-based software, Prime largely reinvented document control for the project.


“The use of technology is revolutionizing the way we process information within our industry,” Reichanadter said. “We got some great takeaways from the Husky Stadium project on what works and what still needs improvement.”


The greatest challenges for Prime included a very short schedule, the unusual spaces including 40-foot ceilings that required lighting, and development of systems that met budgets and space constraints, Snorsky said. The entire electrical contract value included approximately $17 million for shell and core work and an additional $2.5 million for the interior spaces.


Thomas said the most memorable experiences from the entire project were at the beginning and end. 


Being selected by Wright, Runstad & Co. and the University of Washington was a source of great pride for Thomas and the company, and seeing the final result gave him a similar feeling. He was on-site with a crew ensuring everything went smoothly when the Huskies played their first game in the renovated stadium, and he was able to see the reaction from ticket holders as they arrived.


“Seeing their reactions was very rewarding after all the work,” Thomas said.


Prime continues to provide personnel on-site from their service group to man the games together with facilities staff to ensure the systems operate smoothly. It also installed a temporary generator to energize two sports light poles for emergencies. The project won Turner Construction an AGC “Build Washington” award, and Wright, Runstad & Co. was recognized late last year with a fourth-place finish in an AIA worldwide competition for recently constructed stadiums.


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