Sports, entertainment venues: Codes and standards

Sports arenas and entertainment facilities involve complex engineering solutions. Five consulting engineers offer codes and standards advice.


Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis. Courtesy: McClure EngineeringDouglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada. Courtesy: Clark County, NevadaBill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Syska Hennessey GroupKevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas. Courtesy: Henderson EngineersBruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles. Courtesy: Arup

Participants (left to right):



Keith Cooper, PE, President, McClure Engineering, St. Louis

Douglas H. Evans, PE, FSFPE, Fire Protection Engineer, Clark County, Nevada

Bill Larwood, PE, LEED AP, Senior Vice President/Project Principal, Syska Hennessey Group, Los Angeles

Kevin Lewis, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Lenexa, Kansas

Bruce McKinlay, Principal, Arup, Los Angeles 

CSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you use most as you work on these facilities?

Lewis: Sports and event centers are not unlike other buildings in terms of the code. We will use the codes as indicated per the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ), but in general this typically includes the International Code Council series of codes as well as the ASHRAE guidelines. In some instances there will be local amendments to the standard codes that have various modifications.

Henderson Engineers recently completed renovation of the University of South Florida’s arena in Tampa; the team’s goals on the $32 million project (with U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver aspirations) included engineering for the mechanical, electricMcKinlay: Typically, International Building Codes, ASHRAE Design guidelines, NFPA, and local fire and life safety codes. There are specific criteria that the National Hockey League (NHL) requires for its arenas, and also Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has comfort criteria for both the spectators in the stands and players on the pitch in an open-air stadium.

Evans: The jurisdictions in southern Nevada adopt many of the international codes (building and fire) along with the Uniform Plumbing and Mechanical Codes. These codes adopt by reference numerous standards. We also use other codes and standards as needed for guidance when the adopted codes and standards do not cover the area(s) affecting the specific application.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in such facilities?

McKinlay: The NFPA codes can be challenging to meet and provide the high level of public safety that is required in venues with a large amount of people. In addition, USGBC LEED and energy conservation codes can be challenging, especially when conditioning an open-air stadium.

Lewis: Due to the number of spectators in these types of facilities, any code addressing outside air is important to pay attention to. The biggest way to decrease initial unit size and long-term operating energy is to try and reduce the outside air as much as possible but still meet the intent of the governing code.

Larwood: The codes dealing with egress tend to be highly challenging. The exiting requirements for sports and entertainment venues are significant and oftentimes “smoke protected seating,” which incorporates smoke control, will serve to extend the exiting duration thus reducing the number, distances, or widths of exit paths.

Cooper: Pool/Natatorium/Public Health requirements and their interpretations can vary significantly from state to state. We have participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to create a Model Aquatic Health Code, which when completed could become adopted by all states to provide uniform requirements across the nation.

CSE: Do you find codes affecting sports and entertainment venues to be more or less taxing than those impacting work on other structures?

Evans: These venues are definitely more challenging than many other structures. This is primarily due to the substantial occupant loads, but also affected by the large volume and high-bay spaces that are designed to accommodate multiple uses.

Lewis: We typically don’t find that the codes and guidelines are more taxing for these types of facilities. The code makes sense for many typical buildings, and now we are just applying it across a much larger facility. The key component is to try and better the ASHRAE standard minimums for a variety of factors and to help decrease the first cost and really work to keep long-term utility costs in check.

McKinlay: The fire life safety codes are typically much more taxing for sports venues because of the large amount of people that are in attendance and need to be evacuated in event of a fire. Arup uses various modeling software to simulate a fire event, the effect of smoke control systems, and clear visibility to optimize system design and demonstrate safe evacuation of the building. 

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