If there is a major sports stadium or arena that has been completed in recent years or is currently under construction, odds are M-E Engineers was or is involved in the project.
The 30-year-old Wheat Ridge, Colo., corporate headquarters-based engineering design firm has carved a niche for itself by designing sustainable MEP systems for some of the most recognizable athletic venues around the world.
“We do every type of facility on the large end from commercial office space to health care and education, but we’re most known for sports facilities,” M-E Engineers Project Manager Craig Wanklyn, P.E., LEED AP BD + C, says.
The firm’s sporting venue resume includes design work on current National Football League stadiums in Dallas (Dallas Cowboys Stadium), Green Bay (expansion of Lambeau Field), Glendale, Ariz. (University of Phoenix Stadium), Houston (Reliant Stadium) and Kansas City (retrofit of Arrowhead Stadium), and future ones in the San Francisco area (Levis Stadium in Santa Ana, Calif.) and Minneapolis (to be built on the current site of the Metrodome). It also will work on the planned Farmers Field stadium project in Los Angeles.
M-E Engineers has performed MEP work on 15 current Major League Baseball stadiums (either new construction or renovation), with recent projects in Miami (Marlins Stadium), Minneapolis (Target Field), New York (Citi Field and Yankee Stadium) and Washington (Nationals Park). M-E Engineers, which did design work on its home-base Coors Field in Denver, is involved in the current renovations at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles.
Additionally, the firm worked on Major League Soccer stadiums in Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City and stadiums internationally in England, Ireland, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil and London. Its arena resume includes Staples Center in Los Angeles, Madison Square Garden (renovations) in New York City, Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh (the first LEED Gold NHL arena), Philips Arena in Atlanta, Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. The firm currently is working on the new Edmonton Oilers hockey arena project.
On the college side, M-E Engineers’ recent scope of work includes Michigan Stadium, Baylor University Stadium, Kinnick Stadium (University of Iowa) and the University of Houston’s football stadium. It’s also designed MEP systems at Daytona Motor Speedway and the Kansas Speedway.
More than just a pretty building
M-E Engineers faces an ever-changing landscape when designing a sports facility. “Every stadium we do is more complex,” Wanklyn says. “Everyone is trying to find the next big thing out there. You have to think outside the box and strive to save energy and reduce water consumption in order to make the stadium better. It may not be easy, but we know we can get there.”
Wanklyn notes one of the biggest factors in a successful design is making sure a sports facility is functional beyond game days.
“We’re always looking at overall usability,” he says. “Stadiums are not just used for game-day applications. They can be used for hundreds of events every year. It has to be adaptable to a wedding party using the club space, a concert or someone’s holiday party. We’re not designing for it to be used by 50,000 or 100,000 people eight times a year. If the owner wants to come in and use the club area, we don’t have to turn on the whole stadium for a small function. We have to give the owner usability and controllability. That’s more important now with how high-tech these stadiums have become.”
Wanklyn points out that while a particular plumbing system may work well in one stadium, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will achieve the same results in a different facility.
“Every sports stadium is completely different in what experience the owner wants to deliver to the fan,” he says. “Suites in stadiums are designed differently from stadium to stadium and from firm to firm. What you did two years ago in one stadium may not work two years later somewhere else.”
M-E Engineers, which has offices throughout the world, must consider variables such as aesthetics and floor space in the process of developing sustainable solutions for its clients.
“At the end of the day the owner doesn’t want to see mechanical equipment visible in a stadium,” Wanklyn says. “We’re utilizing chilled water here and finding a way to get air out to there, but at the same time we’re thinking of ways to hide these systems. You almost want to make your systems ‘invisible.’
“Square footage is at a premium in these facilities. We have to be very upfront in the design stage. If you want to put in a graywater system, a solar system or some type of energy recovery system, that starts taking up space. We’re always thinking about usable square footage and trying to minimize mechanical spaces as much as possible.”
A facility’s location is of equal importance. “There are different code authorities that require you to meet different energy requirements,” Wanklyn states. “Houston is different than Denver and California is different than New York. We work with architects and owners and figure out how to smartly incorporate systems. You have to find that balance.”
That balance includes working in unison with the various stakeholders on a particular project. “Understanding the goals of the different parties involved are the biggest challenges,” M-E Engineers Principal Jeff Sawarynski, P.E., LEED AP, says. “Everyone needs to understand the big picture to get these goals right. Every project has its own unique technical challenges. If we take that as a given, our ability to work within the framework of the overall project vision is what makes us equally successful.”
What’s in a label?
M-E Engineers has designed more than 200 LEED- and BREEAM-certified facilities to date. Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) bills itself as the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings. More than 1 million buildings have registered for BREEAM assessment since 1990.
But energy-efficient designations are not what drive this 250-employee firm. “All projects don’t specifically have to have LEED requirements,” Wanklyn says. “Our goal is to design systems as energy-efficient as possible. At some point we may want to go the LEED route or not. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t design around sustainable processes and equipment that helps save water, energy and money.
“We’re extremely cognizant of money and all the financial constraints out there. We will make sure we give the owner the best possible system for the money they have. We’ll always start with the best option for a facility and provide additional solutions that can help save water and energy and are cost-effective. Ultimately, our role as an engineering consultant design team is to help advance all the fundamental things included in LEED and ASHRAE and implement them even if a project may not require it. If we don’t do that, we’re not helping anybody along the way.”
M-E Engineers focuses on helping a client understand the overall financial investment in sustainable technologies. “It’s how we do business,” M-E Engineers Principal Mike Hart, P.E., LEED AP, states. “Our clients expect us, as the designers of their primary energy-use systems, to always incorporate low-energy use strategies. When those strategies require additional upfront cost, we help determine a payback for the client so they can make the decision.”
The firm continually looks for new sustainable products and technologies, but will not install them just because they fall into the “latest-and-greatest” category.
“It’s a challenge to figure out what will work in the long term and what will work in different parts of the world,” Wanklyn says. “We are the design team and we are relied upon to be the expert in those systems. Operational aspects of a stadium are completely different than a hospital. We have to provide guidance and expertise and demonstrate this is the best system and the best technology out there that will help an owner in the long run. At the end of the day, is this a good investment for the owner?”
M-E Engineers doesn’t consider itself experts in one particular type of technology. “Whether it’s a stadium or a hospital, we look at all options and put them all on the table,” he says. “We don’t have a certain expertise because that pigeonholes us in the future. We’ll consider everything and present those solutions and evaluate them for the owner in order to give them the best end result.”
Sawarynski adds: “We’re always learning how to evolve tried-and-true systems to be more sustainable. In our part of the puzzle, energy efficiency is the biggest component of sustainability and I think we will see product evolution to help impact a reduction of energy consumption.”
When it’s ready to go over options with a building owner, M-E Engineers benefits from the use of building information modeling. The vast majority of the firm’s projects now are designed in Autodesk Revit.
“We can show them things in 3D where before systems were harder to portray in 2D drawings,” Wanklyn says. “It’s become a great tool for us. We heavily rely on manufacturers to have all their equipment in Revit and readily available for our use. For example, if a manufacturer has a new pump package, we have the ability to insert the exact piece of equipment into a drawing. It also can be a challenge. Ultimately we have to show all these systems on a drawing and if a manufacturer doesn’t have a 3D Revit family, it’s hard to include them as part of the design. Having that updated information readily available is extremely important.”
Sawarynski emphasizes the need to design systems that will provide ease of use for ownership. “Without a doubt, our most successful projects are the ones where the operators are involved during the design,” he says. “People have to operate these buildings. If you design systems that are too complicated to operate and troubleshoot or fail to understand that the operators will need to evolve the systems over time, then it will never matter how ‘great’ your design was.”
Wanklyn admits there is constant pressure in designing sustainable systems in high-profile projects.
“It’s more making sure that we continue to raise the bar and continually are on the cutting edge of new technologies,” he says. “There is always pressure to get it right because there is a lot of money on the line and sometimes it’s the public’s money. We want to be good stewards of the money being used. You want to make sure there are no surprises. At the end of the day we want to have a great project and we want clients to come back to us in the future.”
At the same time, being able to walk through a facility when it’s in use brings about a sense of personal pride.
“When you are designing, sometimes a project can take a few years,” Wanklyn says. “It’s exciting to be there and watch the final product in action. It’s neat to walk through a new stadium on opening day and see people there smiling and taking pictures. They are excited to be there and are excited about what they are seeing. That’s means a lot to us. Little do they know the person they are walking next to on the concourse designed a lot of things in the facility.”