Nothing but Net Zero: ECs take on renovating Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena

An important aspect of the renovation was preserving the original roof of the Washington State Coliseum, which was constructed in the 1960s.

All photos courtesy of Alex Fradkin Photography.
Published On
Jun 15, 2022

The Climate Pledge Arena, also known as the Seattle Center, is a 74-acre multipurpose entertainment complex originally developed for the 1962 World’s Fair and subsequently purchased by the city to serve as an entertainment venue. It is now the first arena in the world to be certified as net zero for carbon emissions.

arena interior

The arena was extensively remodeled in 1995 and then again in 2019–2021. On both projects, the original roof designed by prominent architect Paul Thiry was preserved. Over time, the arena has been expanded to allow for seating capacities of 18,300 for basketball games, 17,100 for ice hockey games and 17,200 for concerts.

Amazon acquired the naming rights, but the facility is owned by a public-private partnership between the Seattle Center, the Seattle Kraken hockey team and the Oak View Group, a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment venue developer.

The latest remodel included a redesign of the interior, with new clubs and social spaces. It is the first arena to be powered by 100% renewable energy thanks to on-site solar panels and off-site renewable power.

Working together

“In previous incarnations when they dug out the arena, they didn’t have any problems with water,” said Greg Gilbertson, general superintendent at Cochran Inc., Seattle. It is the largest woman-owned electrical contractor in Washington. “However, on the 2021 project, the crew drilled 15 feet lower and encountered water, which called for the crew to dewater the building by drilling 44 wells. Each was 83 feet deep to position the crew to be able to suck the water out. We had to have 1,600A of 480V after the temporary power was already installed to pull the water out.”

arena exterior
The arena project added atrium and concourse space. The roof was held up with a steel structure while the completely new arena was constructed below. The former curtain wall was also retained and reinstalled.

“Those who walk on the site today are actually standing above the seats because those seats are in what is a subterranean arena. When fans walk into the building they are on the top floor and have to go down four floors to the ice rink at the bottom of the arena,” he said.

Cochran Electric’s crews, which grew to over 350 on site, performed over 600,000 hours of installation. This began with the Seattle City Light utility power infrastructure, nine 26,400V to 480V substations allowing 36,000A of 480 power within the facility, a 3,V250kW 4160 volt generator system distributed with 4160/480V substation transformers throughout.

Cochran installed 8,300 lighting fixtures and a complex Lutron lighting control system that used a sophisticated aiming program. Crews were challenged with installing sports lighting that met standards for the National Hockey League, Women’s National Basketball Association and theatrical performances. Along with the electrical, fire alarm and security system, Cochran installed miles of telecommunications and broadcast cabling.

“The fire alarm/smoke control system was a design-build of a 1960 concave roof. The smoke control panel was four times larger than a typical high-rise building in Seattle. Dehumidification was also a big part of the arena as the ice conditions are critical,” Gilbertson said.

“On a regular project, we’re used to working with maybe one or two electrical contractors, but on this project, there were more than a dozen electrical contractors that were overlapping,” said Laura Richardson, who is majority owner of KolKay Electric Inc., an electric contracting company in Enumclaw, Wash., that specializes in commercial and industrial projects within the private and public sectors. It is a certified Women Owned Business Enterprise, Supplier and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise.

“We at KolKay were brought in towards the end of the project and asked to provide the fire alarm through suites and the Space Needle Lounge,” she said. “Overlapping trades and a restricted schedule made coordination of our manpower challenging.”

“One of the many challenges in this unique project was following and adapting to all the changing mandates during a pandemic—making sure our crews were safe during the COVID period, by providing proper PPE and giving our crews the flexibility of ‘request for time off,’” Richardson said. “It was toward the end of summer when a lot of people started displaying symptoms related to colds, but were mostly allergy-related; however, they were unable to be on the project with any symptoms.”

Trusses extend and help support the roof in case of a seismic event. The new arena was dug further down from the original site to allow for more seating and a larger capacity crowd.

“By the time we came on the job, the roof, along with most of the infrastructure, had been completed, so our biggest challenge was the ‘time.’ The project included many coordination meetings that were critical to keep the communication and flow of the project,” said Matt Sherman, project manager and estimator at KolKay Electric. “Working closely with Cochran Electric and Valley Electric [Co. of Mt. Vernon] to tie in the security and fire alarm systems from the build-out into and around the Club Lounges was a true team effort.” Though the coordination was at times challenging, Sherman said that it was heartening “to see how well all the various IBEW Local 46 electricians worked together regardless of employer and got the job done.”

“We physically and electrically installed all the video displays, the wall displays, about 28,000 square feet of LED displays plus the signal and power that went along with each display,” said Jacob Boyer, senior project manager for Boyer Electric Co. Inc., Edmonds, Wash. The company worked with Daktronics of Sioux Falls, S.D.

outside of arena
KolKay Electric wired the lounge areas of the arena, including displays. Cochran Electric designed the broadcast, audiovisual and telecommunications systems.

Shifting to net zero

In the summer of 2020, while still under construction, the decision was made to switch the building from gas to electricity, making the arena all-electric and powered entirely by renewable energy, which required an additional 12,000A of 480 power.

Home to the NHL’s Kraken and the WNBA’s Storm, and other teams such as the Rat City Roller Derby of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association and Seattle University Redhawks men’s basketball team, Climate Pledge Arena is the first professional sports venue in the world to receive the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Zero Carbon Certification. This third-party certification standard recognizes achievement of net-zero carbon emissions. According to the ILFI’s website, “One hundred percent of the operational energy use associated with the project must be offset by new on- or off-site renewable energy. One hundred percent of the embodied carbon emissions impacts associated with the construction and materials of the project must be disclosed and offset.”

ILFI’s Zero Carbon Certification can be applied to new and existing projects. The standard includes specifications for energy efficiency, carbon offsets, fuel types used to produce energy, on- and off-site renewable energy sources and using a life-cycle assessment to calculate and reduce carbon emissions for all construction materials and processes.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.