Designing a winning sports venue: Building automation

Sports and entertainment arenas are more than just seats and a playing field; they are highly complex structures bringing in thousands of fans—and millions of dollars—every year. Building automation systems and controls play a role in ensuring a smooth-running building.


Jerry Atienza, EIT Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPETodd Mack, PEJeff Sawarynski, PE, LEED AP

  • Jerry Atienza, EIT, Senior plumbing designer, Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.
  • Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire protection engineer, Clark County Dept. of, Development Services, Building Division, Las Vegas
  • Todd Mack, PE, Principal, DLR Group, Omaha, Neb.
  • Jeff Sawarynski, PE, LEED AP, Principal, M-E Engineers Inc., Denver, Colo.

The DLR Group, working on the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab, were charged with creating lighting conditions that mimicked what athletes would face during games. Dimmable LED fixtures were chosen to save energy at times when athletes were not undergoing testing. Courtesy: DLR Group

CSE: When designing integration monitoring and control systems, what factors do you consider?

Sawarynski: Who will be operating the system, what flexibilities are required, and which local vendors should be consulted to ensure a quality project long after we are done and gone.

Evans: When coordinating fire protection aspects for these major facilities, automatic sprinklers and fire alarms may be zoned accordingly to allow evacuation of specific portions of the facility. Section 909 of the International Building Code mandates monitoring and control for smoke control systems. These active features must be properly coordinated with the passive aspects (walls and floors) of the facility.

Atienza: The first consideration is what level of control the client wants for the facility. Important factors to consider include the types of systems to be implemented, occupancy schedule, temperature requirements, and how each type of mechanical system will interact with the rest of the facility and the users.

CSE: What are some common problems you encounter when working on building automation systems (BAS)?

Sawarynski: Certainly cost control and quality of program come to mind. Cost control because budgets are often established before adequate design is complete. Ensuring those budgeting the project understand what is unique to any given venue is a challenge we see. Additionally, we can design the best automation system in the world, but if it is programmed or installed poorly, it can be a nightmare to troubleshoot. You really need quality, reputable vendors to be part of the project.

Evans: One common problem has been activating the smoke management system(s) through the building management system (BMS). Although this can function properly, activating smoke control directly from the fire alarm system has been less problematic.

Atienza: The most common problem with BAS is making the systems more complex than is necessary. This can lead to misinterpretation of the controls system by the contractor and potentially incorrectly implemented control sequences. Additionally, systems that are excessively complex will likely not function as designed because the facility engineer may not fully understand how the system is intended to operate. A high rate of turnover within the maintenance staff can compound this problem. Interface Engineering attempts to mitigate these problems by discussing the design intent with the controls contractor before sending the drawings out and modifying the sequences of operation to make the system more straightforward without giving up the energy savings that can be achieved with an advanced controls system.

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