Designing a winning sports venue: Electrical, power systems

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. Power and electrical systems are often the key to success.


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: Describe some recent electrical/power system challenges you encountered when designing a new building or retro-commissioning an existing building.

Evans: Many of the major facilities on the Las Vegas Strip contain several diesel-fired generators. Due to the quantity of diesel, the spaces qualify as hazardous occupancies. At least one of these facilities includes a substation within one of the buildings. Another facility contains 120 psi natural gas-fired generators that dump waste heat into the boilers. Determining the applicable level of protection and achieving compliance can be a challenge.

Sawarynski: Existing buildings always pose a challenge as the electrical distribution may not be able to accommodate the added loads or the equipment is beyond its useful life expectancy. This is especially true in college athletic facilities, which often see renovations over new construction. Upgrading the electrical distribution is typically low on the list of items on which owners wish to spend their renovation dollars. It is key to balance the upgrades needed while maintaining the budget.

CSE: What low- and medium-voltage power challenges have you overcome?

Sawarynski: Although many sports facilities have similar aspects, each is different and choosing the power distribution system is critical to a successful project. The scale of some projects may make the choice of distributing medium voltage throughout the building an easy one, but it may make sense on smaller projects also. It is important to understand if the owner and operator are comfortable maintaining a medium-voltage distribution—some owners would rather rely on the utility to provide low-voltage power to the facility and not be responsible for the maintenance. Others are comfortable with the maintenance and often see lower costs from the local utility.

CSE: Describe a recent sports/entertainment venue project in which you specified standby or emergency power. What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?

Evans: At the very least, these venues will require emergency power for the fire alarm system and the ability to egress the facility (egress illumination and signage). Standby power may or may not be required for these venues depending on the type and complexity of building systems, as well as other base building aspects.

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