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Feature Story - November 2006
Sporting & Events Centers
Santa Ana Star Center

Sports Arena Scores First in Proposed Heart of Rio Rancho

By Neal Singer

The 500- by 200-ft. Santa Ana Star Center, located in Rio Rancho, N.M. outside of Albuquerque, is bowl-shaped at one end to accommodate a rink built for its chief tenant, the New Mexico Scorpions professional hockey team. It is rectangular at the other end to house equipment, offices and team dressing rooms. The $45 million structure seats 6,500 fans for hockey games and 8,500 for other events such as concerts when six rows of retractable seating will be rolled out.


"The building is an exercise in the control of geometry," said architect Don Dethlefs of Denver-based architectural firm Sink Combs Dethlefs. "You try to symmetrically lay out the bowl of the performance space."

The striking design is bolstered by some highly technical support.

The high-grade concrete floor is built to underlay ice without cracking or spalling as the temperature is lowered below freezing and then warmed to accommodate rodeos, concerts, trade shows and other events.

"Many public buildings might freeze 12 months of the year. They don't freeze and unfreeze," said Cliff Granshaw of the Canadian-based CIMCO refrigeration installation team. "But a multipurpose arena like Santa Ana, they'll defrost."

The ffloor is 85 ft. wide and 200 ft. long with no expansion joints. It is level to 3/16-inch. The floor is cooled by calcium chloride chilled by ammonia, which runs through 60,000 ft. of piping.

"It's a very special piece of concrete," Granshaw said.

The concrete is chilled slowly the first time, in a process that can take as long as a week. For warmer events that may take place during the hockey season, insulating waffle board can be laid and then a wooden floor, rather than defrosting the ice.

Upwards from the rink, rows of cement benches and molded plastic chairing rise, stepwise backward. Both reach the same sound-absorbing band of white Tectum that circles the arena.

The white band - the first of two - passes like underlining directly beneath the row of open-faced suites that line its second floor.

A second band, this one of sound-absorbing white gypsum board, passes above the suites like a headband.

The tougher Tectum - described by its manufacturer, Tectum, Inc. of Newark, Ohio as "an abuse-resistant acoustical product" -- is used below because of the possibility of contact with fans.

There are 24 16-person suites. One high concrete step within each provides seating for two rows of fans. Water sinks and other amenities are located towards the rear. There are also three eight-person suites, and to help sales, two much larger party suites available for company outings on a per-game basis. The party suites are located at the end of the arena, with views not as good as those for the other suites

Still, "there's not a bad seat in the house," said Dave Watral, project engineer for Albuquerque-based general contractor Bradbury Stamm Inc.

Views are good because roof-supporting steel girders, which in older stadiums with heavier roofs needed to be placed throughout the structure, here are placed behind the seating area. They rise to support a relatively light membrane-protected metal-deck roof.

The extensive use of unenclosed steel and light roof means "there's not as much rebar as we'd like," said Paul Mackey, an estimator for CMC Construction Services, headquartered in Dallas. The company fabricates rebar, among other products. He said the building needed only 280-300 tons of rebar. "If it had been designed differently, it would have used 1,000 tons."

Another reason for the low call on rebar is that the amount of space around the building is large enough for parking, so there is no need for a multistory parking garage.

A graceful-looking catwalk just beneath the roof circles the building, providing access to service the scoreboard, clock and lighting.

Keeping the spidery catwalk visual company are coolant pipes installed by Albuquerque-based Yearout Mechanical Inc.

Yearout project manager Chuck Donoghue said hanging the ductwork 63 ft. above the rink was the most difficult part of the job. "It was done with a 200-ton crane," he added. "We flew it in from the top before the [roof] decking came in and from the bottom with a 120-ft. man-lift.

"We hung it on the weekend because with backhoes, loaders and pickups driving around, we didn't want to take a chance on somebody bumping it."

Cooling and heating will be achieved by four 30,000-lb. McQuay units on the rooftop.

Five exhaust fans, each pushing 40,000 cfm, are on the roof to remove smoke from pyrotechnics and other causes.

Concourses for fans are remarkably spacious. "The seats, steps and risers are coming down over your head, so that's where we put the restrooms," said architect Dethlefs. Food and drink courts are also housed under the seating on the main floor, providing more concourse room for walking and making the space big enough to house trade shows.

"Usually concourses of this size are for 12,000-person buildings," Dethlefs added. "Putting the concourse on the outside, you get high ceilings, it feels wider, people can see inside through glass and it adds to the excitement of the urban environment."

Dethlefs said the urban environment will come when other buildings go up.

Other architectural touches include using concrete block for the first 4 ft. of wall surface. "That gets rid of the overwhelming majority of drywall abuse," Dethlefs said. And the block is pretty because the visible 16-in. side is scored by a vertical joint and colored in earth tones, which makes it look like 8- by 8-in. tile.

Windows are occasionally partially blocked by diagonal steel beams. These are braces required for earthquake loads. "We could have covered them, but then we couldn't have windows," Dethlefs added. "And it's a sports building.

We're not trying to make it industrial and we wouldn't do it in a hotel, but here it fit."

One of the most impressive parts of the job is that the south side of the building was built into a hillside. To hold back the sheared earth, an 8-in.-thick, 25-ft.-tall retaining wall was built. It runs the length of the building.

Two-hundred-thirty soil nails were placed nearly horizontally into the hillside as it was removed a few vertical feet at a time and replaced with shotcrete.

The nails were 60, 50 and 45 ft. long.

Key Players

City of Rio Rancho
Construction Manager: Intl. Coliseum Company
Architect:Sink Combs Dethlefs
General Contractor:Hunt Construction Group/ Bradbury Stamm
Structural Engineer:Martin & Martin
Concrete:Coreslab Structures;
Steel:Alamo Steel; Bosworth Steel Erectors
Mechanical:Yearout Mechanical
Electrical:Theco Electric

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