BY STEVE SPAULDING of CONTRACTOR’s Staff
VAIL, COLO. — This town is undergoing what the its public relations department calls “The Billion Dollar Makeover.” The five-year, multi-phase project is designed to update the infrastructure of the 40-year-old ski town, from deep utilities such as the water and sewage systems right to the surface, including landscaping, parking, public restrooms and improving the flow of pedestrian traffic. Now, after little more than two years, the first phase has been completed at a cost of about $6 million.
Well before the project began, the idea of installing a public radiant snow-melt system had been batted around the offices at the Vail Public Works Department. One year into the extensive overhaul seemed like the best time to make it happen.
“The streets were all torn up, so now would be the time to do it as we’re putting them back together,” said Scott Bluhm, streetscape project coordinator for the department.
The biggest reason for the installation is to stand down the snowplows that previously had been given the task of clearing the section of downtown known as Vail Village. While the cost of running the system vs. the cost of snow removal proved similar (at least in the short term), the quiet operation of the system is a huge benefit to the tourist trade. Vail has become synonymous with recreational skiing, and nothing will spoil a ski vacation faster than being awakened at 5 or 6 a.m. by the snowplows after a long day on the slopes, or a long night on the town.
Without snowplow blades to worry about, contractors were able to install a decorative paver brick where before there had just been plain asphalt.
“There was some fear of how much wear and tear they could take,” Bluhm said, “not only with the plows but also with the chains and loaders.”
The town’s liability due to slips and falls was also a factor in the decision to go with snow melt, but not a huge concern.
“We think our public works crews kept it pretty safe out there,” Bluhm said.
Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers designed the system. For the installation work, the town’s general contractors turned to R&H Mechanical of Eagle, Colo., a company specializing in radiant heating. The company has between 50 and 60 full-time employees, and has been in business for 14 years.
R&H Mechanical was hired at least partly on the basis of a 150,000-sq.-ft. radiant snow-melt system it had installed at Copper Mountain, Colo., another ski resort community. To date the company has installed 43,000 sq. ft. in Vail of what is projected to be a 200,000-sq.-ft. installation.
R&H Mechanical has put roughly six months of work into the job, spread out over the last year.
“We had to work during the slow season, in the spring,” explained Dave Young, manager with R&H Mechanical. “Then we had to pull out for the middle of summer and came back in the fall — which we call ‘mud season’ — because the work we’re doing is basically shutting down the downtown there.”
R&H Mechanical used 58-in. Zurn HeatPEX barrier tubing to carry the 4 million Btu generated by three Buderus boilers. Zurn radiant heating manifolds were used to control and distribute heat throughout the system. The next phase of the project (to be started next spring) will involve adding two more boilers to the system to handle the additional load.
The mechanical room was placed in a parking structure, and the location presented a particular challenge.
“We had to bring the mains across a river,” Young said. “We brought them across under a bridge — just a little footbridge — to tie them into the system.”
Solving problems like that are all in a day’s work, he added.
“Snow melts are our specialty,” Young said. “That’s why they hired us. This is what we do all day.”