Thirty Years and Running

The Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J.

By Tim Neary

hen it opened its doors in 1976, the Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey helped usher in a new era of sports and entertainment facilities. Whereas other notable sports venues of the time typically were known for a single home team, the Meadowlands—with its NFL football stadium, NBA basketball court, NHL hockey rink and racetrack—hosted an entire region of professional and college teams. And the versatility of each facility made the Meadowlands an ideal place for dozens of non-sporting events every year.

Thirty years later, however, the Meadowlands is not the new kid on the block. Yet while other arenas of the same age, and some even newer, are already at the end of their lives, the Meadowlands remains a viable facility. In total, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), which operates the Meadowlands, has invested $52 million into the complex to increase energy efficiency and improve safety and security over the past 10 years.


A New Jersey landmark, the Meadowlands sits on 750 acres and houses three major facilities: Giants Stadium, home to the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets; Meadowlands Racetrack, a 40,000-seat facility that showcases harness and thoroughbred racing; and Continental Airlines Arena, home to the NBA's Nets, the NHL's Devils, the Big East Conference's Seton Hall University and indoor events like concerts.

While upgrades such as modern scoreboards, more comfortable seating and new playing surfaces certainly help sell season tickets, efficient energy systems and the savings reaped from them can be just as important to the bottom line—especially during a time of rising energy costs.

The bulk of infrastructure upgrades began in 1996 when the NJSEA entered into a performance contract for energy upgrade and retrofit work. Since the 1980s, the NJSEA had relied on standard maintenance contracts that involved HVAC equipment and fire systems. But the long-term performance contract was a far more ambitious undertaking.

Performance contracts guarantee an amount of savings over a period of several years through energy conservation measures. The contract is structured in a way that allows the work to be paid for by the generated savings, leaving operating budgets untouched. In the case of the Meadowlands, the contract guaranteed savings of at least $44 million over 15 years.

The performance contract began at a time when the facilities already had 20 years of wear and tear. The NJSEA wanted to improve energy savings, the physical plant infrastructure and the comfort of employees and patrons. Even more challenging, it wanted to accomplish all of this with a single source supplier and a self-funding program.

Of course, the Meadowlands didn't exactly shut down for the retrofit. Because the complex was in constant use and installation was at various stages of completion throughout the buildings, the project often required mechanical and electrical contractors in different places at the same time.

The primary focus of the contract was to convert a site that primarily used electricity for heating and cooling to gas. First, NJSEA officials selected custom-built, high-efficient natural-gas-fueled chillers and boilers. Additionally, the upgrade work replaced aging lamps and ballasts in the administrative and common areas with more energy-efficient models.

For building control, the NJSEA installed a direct digital control system. The system included local area network architecture to enable NJSEA personnel to monitor and manage energy consumption across all three venues.

Engineers also aimed to maximize energy savings throughout all of the upgrade work and retrofits, which often required detailed engineering and selecting the best equipment from a variety of vendors. For example, in order to meet the load requirements and deliver savings at the racetrack, it was necessary to specify a combination of both natural gas and standard, electric chillers. The racetrack's final plan included three 700-ton gas engine chillers, one 1,350-ton electric and one 500-ton electric chiller.

In total, the performance contract and local utility rebates have saved the NJSEA about $40 million in the first 10 years of the contract.

Hightened security

In 2000, the NJSEA began upgrading the digital control system to a new control platform designed to integrate all core building functions. The control platform allows Meadowlands operators to control HVAC, security and fire systems from a single location.

Within the next two years, the project work grew to include security and fire system upgrades across the campus. The video surveillance system, for instance, had consisted of a series of traditional analog cameras. Rather than replacing the entire system, the Meadowlands upgraded to a software-based surveillance platform. Technicians left the analog cameras in place but converted their signals to digital feeds, which are tied together by the surveillance platform and sent directly to the building control system. Instead of spending money to install an entirely new system, the NJSEA was able to reinvest in existing equipment.

Along with the digital video system, the building control platform monitors points controlled by access-card readers used by Meadowlands employees to enter restricted areas of the buildings. This enables operators to track the movement of people throughout the complex. And, because the security system is integrated with the building control platform, Meadowlands staff can easily pinpoint specific locations throughout the complex and view associated clips.

The system's purpose is to enhance safety across the complex, including protecting fans during major events. But the enhanced video capabilities have solved smaller-scale issues as well. For example, during the first week the system was up and running, a vehicle hit the parked car of a Meadowlands employee and drove off without stopping. Security staff played back parking lot video surveillance and found a recording of the incident, which led to the capture of the culprit and eventual reimbursement for the damages. This same parking lot surveillance has also been instrumental in stopping car thieves.

Fire system upgrades also provide greater system visibility for enhanced response time and improved safety. The upgrades involved replacing aging fire systems that didn't meet modern codes with enhanced fire panels, which tie into the building control system in the event of a fire. For example, if a pull station is activated, the new fire panel routes the signal to engage emergency response systems. The data also is sent to operators of the building automation platform, who view the information as screen graphics to pinpoint the exact location of the fire.

Prior to the upgrades, finding the source of an alarm was more difficult. The numerous nooks and crannies throughout the complex made locating a fire an onerous and potentially dangerous task. Lit cigarettes in garbage cans at the racetrack, for example, were a common source of fires, but very difficult to locate.

Not your typical facility management

The heating and cooling systems at the Meadowlands are far more complex than the standard HVAC designs used to control temperatures in offices or other common areas. The Meadowlands system, by contrast, needs to control the sports environments for athletes and thousands of fans.

Not many people realize how much it takes to convert the IZOD Center (formerly the Continental Airlines arena) from a hardwood basketball floor one night to an ice rink for thousands of rabid hockey fans the next. It's far more complicated than simply replacing floor panels.

For example, the temperature and humidity levels required for basketball games are obviously different from hockey requirements. The NHL mandates specific standards to create the right playing conditions.

These days, the Meadowlands easily meets those standards with the help of the integrated systems. Meadowlands personnel literally flip a switch that automatically regulates the air temperature and humidity to appropriate levels.

Even with an effective, efficient technology platform, the Meadowlands still offers many challenges, thanks to its size and complexity. That's why the performance contract includes a maintenance component, which ensures a team of outside technicians work full time to complement the Meadowlands' own staff, offering concentrated expertise and support. The technicians fill the obvious service and maintenance role of making sure all systems are operating properly, as well as ensuring NJSEA mechanics are trained and understand the ins and outs of the technology. Additionally, they test the fire systems on a regular basis to ensure the complex remains up to code.

As the demands on the Meadowlands and requirements for staff have grown, so has the need for maintenance and services that keep the complex operating at peak condition. Managing a sports campus of this size is a complicated task, and the Meadowlands is rising above the challenge—earning a spot in the performance hall of fame.


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