A Monumental Undertaking

Kalli Rasbury

January 1, 2008

When it comes to bidding insulation projects, why not think big? That’s what TRA Thermatech did when it took on the challenge of providing the mechanical insulation for one of the largest commercial construction projects on the East Coast. The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, which will open its doors to guests in April 2008, has definitely been a job worth taking on, with 500,000 linear feet (97 miles) of insulated pipe and just short of 1 million square feet of duct work—enough to cover more than 20 football fields. The project is not without its challenges, though.

The National Harbor Project

The resort is part of the new National Harbor project, a $2-billion, 300-acre waterfront destination set along 1 ¼ miles of the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The total project will include a vast collection of retail, dining, hotel, and entertainment venues, with panoramic views of the nation’s capital and historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. With a prime location at the foot of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge—just off I-95 on the Washington, D.C., Capital Beltway and within an hour’s drive of three major airports (Reagan National, Dulles International, and Baltimore Washington International)—the National Harbor has been hailed as the “Gateway to the National Capital Region” and will likely become a premier destination for tourists, business travelers, and conference attendees from around the world.

According to www.nationalharbor.com, plans for the National Harbor project currently include 7.3 million square feet of mixed-use community space, with 1 million square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment space; 500,000 square feet of class “A” office space; 4,000 hotel rooms; a 470,000-square-foot convention center; 2,500 residential spaces (townhouses, luxury condominiums, and apartments); four piers, including two marinas; exclusive shopping along a mile of waterfront boardwalk; a movie theater; a children’s museum; performance venues; walking, jogging, and biking paths around the entire campus; and 10,000 on-site parking spaces. Water taxis will run to and from Alexandria, Georgetown, and historic Mount Vernon, and sightseeing tours will leave from the marinas.

A High-Visibility Project

The cornerstone of the National Harbor is the new $565-million Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, set to become “the largest non-gaming hotel and convention center on the Eastern Seaboard.” The resort originally was to include 1,500 rooms. High demand dictated that more rooms be added, bringing the total to 2,000 amenity-laden guestrooms that include 108 lavish suites and 300 VIP Tower rooms. The Gaylord National also will feature a stunning, 18-story, 1.65-acre, multilevel atrium with views of the Potomac River and Old Town Alexandria. The atrium will be climate-controlled and constructed of glass and steel. With a dramatic gazebo, it truly will bring the outside in with sunlight and breathtaking landscaping. It is meant to reflect the power, glory, and legacy of the Capital of the United States of America.

Like the many monuments scattered throughout the area, the Gaylord National will be an awe-inspiring site. Its 470,000 square feet of convention, meeting, exhibition, and pre-function space will include the following features:

  • A 180,000-square-foot exhibition hall with 17 dedicated loading docks
  • A 50,000-square-foot ballroom, featuring a theatrical stage and an outdoor balcony that offers views of the Potomac River
  • Three additional ballrooms (30,000 square feet, 14,000 square feet, and 8,100 square feet)
  • 74 breakout rooms with maximum flexibility
  • A “Hotel Within a Hotel” area where groups can enjoy a more intimate meeting environment apart from the Convention Center’s daily activities

The convention space is only the beginning. The massive resort also will feature a nationally branded business center; 8,000 square feet of retail shopping space; six restaurants; an exclusive nightclub; a spa, salon, and fitness center; a family entertainment arcade; an indoor/outdoor swimming pool; and 80,000 square feet of terraced, outdoor “special events” lawns.

According to the online National Harbor Newsletter, the Gaylord National already has booked more than 1 million room nights—an industry record. In addition, the National Children’s Museum—a 140,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, interactive attraction—has announced plans to open at National Harbor, promising to draw even more guests to the area. The National Harbor also announced two signature spring events: a Yacht Show that will take place May 1–4, 2008, and the International Food and Wine Festival, set for May 16–18, 2008.

TRA Thermatech Thinks Big

The entire project is being developed by The Peterson Companies, with construction managed by Perini Thompkins Joint Venture and Pierce Associates as the mechanical contractor. TRA Thermatech won the bid with Pierce Associates to install the mechanical insulation for the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. From the beginning, it was clear that the project would have unique insulation needs and challenges. With significant experience in commercial insulation projects, TRA Thermatech and its manpower resources were well prepared for the job.

“After being in the industry for more than 40 years, there are not many projects that come along that we get extremely excited about, but there was something special about the Gaylord project from the very beginning,” says Steve Shegogue, vice president of field operations for TRA Thermatech. “The news of this project becoming a reality was very gratifying after hearing about it in some form or another for nearly 20 years. Once we learned that we were the successful bidder on the project, I knew we had quite a challenge ahead of us.”

“The nature of preconstruction has been moving toward Design Build/Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contracts with incomplete construction
documents, and that was the case with Gaylord, too,” adds Rick Pumphrey, vice president and chief estimator at TRA Thermatech. “The magnitude of this project and its compressed schedule, coupled with our strong performance history with this type of construction, placed our company on a short list of viable insulators. Gaylord has become one of the largest projects in our company’s history.”

Insulation Matters

For the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center project, insulation was required for pipes, chillers, generator sets, and pumps. The project called for 500,000 linear feet (97 miles) of insulated pipe. It also contains just short of 1 million square feet of duct work.

The primary pipe insulation for the project is standard fiberglass insulation with white all-service jacketing. Some flexible unicellular insulation, as well as buried polyisocyanurate pipe insulation, weatherproofed cellular glass, and fire wrap, also will be used for the Gaylord project.

“One of the challenges was getting material on site and distributed throughout the project. At times, this was as much as a trailer per day with all sorts of materials, from pipe and duct insulation to fire wrap,” explains Shegogue. “That did not account for the miscellaneous sundries being delivered from our warehouse on a weekly basis.

“The biggest challenge was putting together a work force to meet the fast-track schedule,” Shegogue adds. “Assembling the team started with a support group from our office staff and included finding the right field personnel to meet the everyday challenges on a project of this size. Fortunately, we can draw from the large in-house work force that we maintain. The project started with bringing in the project field supervisor to work with the head estimator to review the drawings and go over the plan to proceed. We feel this is the best way to get our key people involved, as well as make them feel they are a part of the project team. From the very beginning, I knew that we had put together a winning team.”

On any given day, 25 to 30 skilled employees are working on the insulation portion of the project. TRA Thermatech’s first activity occurred in mid-spring 2006, and final completion of the project is estimated to occur in fall 2008. However, the first wave of rooms (making up one tower) should be completed and ready for occupancy ahead of schedule in April 2008.

Time: The Ultimate Challenge

The main factor that separated this job from others was the quick schedule for the entire project. Normally, a project of this magnitude would have taken 3 to 4 years to complete, but the resort will be turned around in just 2 years. The accelerated deadline made proper planning and organization even more critical to the success of the insulation work. TRA Thermatech’s estimating staff and general foreman initially invested nearly 400 man-hours of document review before the first piece of insulation was installed.

The tight turnaround also complicated coordination between the trades. To complete the project on schedule, some trades have to do out-of-sequence operations. This inhibits access to pipes and affects productivity.

Making History

The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, as well as the National Harbor project at large, will go down in history as one of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area’s premier attractions. The sprawling waterfront boardwalk—with its restaurants, shops, and hotels—certainly will draw visitors from around the world. For those in the insulation industry, however, it is the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating such a destination that is most fascinating.

Installing the mechanical insulation for the Gaylord National has presented challenges and called for an emphasis on quick turnaround and quality work. With all that this impressive project will offer future residents and visitors, however, all of that hard work is sure to pay off for years to come—giving TRA Thermatech a place in insulation history.