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Photos Courtesy of Structal-Heavy Steel Construction
Photos courtesy of Structal-Heavy Steel Construction

The Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County had a few tall tasks for the project team on its new 720,000-sq-ft arena for the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins: a tight schedule, a firm budget and construction on a steeply sloped site. The project team was able to hit those goals on the $321-million, 19,000-seat CONSOL Energy Center while executing a design that includes a 100-ft-tall atrium with a curved spine glass-and-steel wall. Getting there, however, was a balance of close collaboration among project team members, starting with construction and subcontracting contracts awarded while the design was still in schematic phase in late 2008.

“You don't move the start of a season of a major sport,” says Serge Dussault, vice president of engineering for Structal-Heavy Steel Construction, a steel contractor based in Point of Rocks, Md. “The building had to be finished.”

Keeping under budget was important, and limiting change orders was a big factor in meeting the tight schedule, Dussault says. The use of modeling technology by the engineers and subcontractors was critical, enabling early mill orders, clash detection and an accelerated steel fabrication process for 7,800 tons of steel.

The curved spine glazed wall on the arena's western side creates a massive window facing Pittsburgh's downtown and a frame for the giant atrium and grand staircase entrance. About a dozen large 20-in.-dia columns spaced at 24 ft on center, with bracing from strategically placed struts, hold up the multiple-curve wall structure.

“We used a lot of architectural steel—and unusual structural steel,” Dussault says. “It was not a matter of making it functional only at that point, but making it beautiful at the same time. The challenge was to find the right material that was readily available at a reasonable price.”

Managing the slope required a complex foundation and column system that transferred lateral wind loads to the base, Dussault says.

The project team also collaborated on an efficient roof design, Dussault says. “We had only four major trusses that had to be shored during the erection, and everything else we were able to erect with a single pickup with a crane,” he adds.

The roof ultimately had a pair of 205-ton trusses measuring 340 ft long and 45 ft deep, and another 150-ton pair that were 280 ft long and 32 ft deep.

Despite the challenges, the center opened on time for the hockey team's 2010 season last fall as the first LEED-Gold NHL arena.

CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh

Key Players

Owner: Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County

Owner's Representative: ICON Venue Group, Greenwood Village, Colo.

Construction Manager: PJ Dick-Hunt Construction, a joint venture, Pittsburgh and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Lead Designer: Populous, Kansas City, Mo.

Civil Engineer: Civil and Environmental Consultants, Pittsburgh

Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti, New York

MEP Engineer: M-E Engineers, Kansas City

Steel Contractor: Structal-Heavy Steel Construction, Canam Group., Point of Rocks, Md.

Associate Designer: Astorino, Pittsburgh

BIM Consultant: InteliBuild, Canam Group, Point of Rocks, Md.

SUBMITTED BY: Structal-Heavy Steel Construction, Canam Group, Point of Rocks, Md.

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