West / Regional Reports

Casino Does Not Gamble With Indoor Environment

December 16, 2003
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BARONA RESERVATION - Jim Ruecker, executive director of facilities at a large California casino, is emphatic about the need for clean, conditioned air in a casino setting.

"We've been in the casino business for over 10 years, and in that time we've formed some opinions on how to maintain a good indoor environment," he says.

Ruecker explains that at an earlier casino facility on the site, he and his staff developed methods on how to control the indoor environment. When plans were made for a grand, new facility, they put their knowledge to work in the creation of the Barona Valley Ranch facility, owned and operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

The all-new resort facility, located on the Barona Reservation - which was established in 1932 and is located about a half-hour northeast of downtown San Diego - encompasses a large casino, luxury hotel, and one of the most admired new golf courses in America, designed by the firm of Gary Roger Baird Design International.

It also has a unique mechanical system, which makes the indoor environment comfortable.

The modular design of the Trane Climate Changer air handlers allowed installation in confined spaces above the casino floor.

Quality Indoor Environment

Ruecker points out that all casinos have the goal of providing a comfortable indoor environment for customers, and this is made challenging by wide variations in occupancy, and the need to handle tobacco smoke.

"A significant percentage of our customers are smokers," says Ruecker. "And we believe that the best air quality solution is a high rate of ventilation, but in a way that doesn't in itself become a comfort problem."

This conclusion was drawn at a smaller Barona casino on the same site over the last decade.

"We learned that large volume ventilation with appropriately conditioned air is the best solution. So when we began planning our new facility, we insisted on a mechanical system that could meet that challenge," he says.

Construction of the new facility began in the summer of 2001 and was complete Dec. 11, 2002. The casino had a "soft startup" on that date, with slot machines and other equipment being brought in and started up over a two-week period.

"We wanted to be able to adjust to the new environment gradually, rather than having massive crowds on an opening night," he says.

Planning the mechanical plant for the new facility was based extensively on the experience of the owners with the earlier facility.

Tracer Summit building control system allows remote access for key personnel.

Designed For High Summer Temperatures

Part of the design challenge came from the location itself. The Barona Valley area has much higher summer temperatures than nearby San Diego, with annual temperatures ranging from 40 degrees to 115 degrees F. Thus, it was necessary to have a major chilled water resource to supply the air handlers.

The chilled water source for the new resort complex is two centrifugal chillers, with a third identical machine in standby. The three machines are located in a separate mechanical plant building. The equipment selected was Trane CenTraVacâ„¢ Model CVHF electric chillers, rated at 800 tons each.

Cesar Madlangbayan, facilities mechanical manager who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the mechanical plant, indicates that the three machines are rotated on a schedule to keep the hours balanced. The plant produces chilled water at 42 degrees F, with a 54 degree F return. The BAC cooling towers are located at grade, adjacent to the mechanical building, and are supplied with softened well water from the facility water plant.

The cooling plant is also equipped with a plate-and-frame heat exchanger, which permits "free cooling operation" during the cooler months. In this mode, the cooling towers alone can economically supply much of the cooling needed. This method is especially effective here, where the humidity is low during the cooler months. To supply heating, the mechanical plant is equipped with three 700,000 Btu hot water boilers, which are used for heating as well as for ventilation air reheat.

The chilled water plant for the Barona Valley Resort and Casino features three 800-ton Trane CenTraVac chillers.

Casino Airside A Major Challenge

A major design challenge for the facility was the airside system for the casino. Ruecker points out that the casino comfort strategy requires large volumes of conditioned air. This is provided by a mixture of rooftop air handlers and indoor central station air handlers in a mezzanine space above the casino floor. The rooftop air handlers are Trane T-Series Climate Changerâ„¢ units. The T-Series unit is modular in design, and is designed for outdoor use. These cataloged units were specified with the exact combination of elements for each application.

The rooftop air handlers provide conditioned outdoor air that discharges through overhead diffusers into the casino gaming area. The large number units allow an enormous volume of air to be discharged into the spaces without a feeling of draftiness. Some areas of the casinos are designated as non-smoking areas. For these areas especially, a high ventilation rate is essential.

The indoor units chosen are Trane Modular Climate Changerâ„¢ air handlers. The indoor modular air handlers in the mezzanine provide conditioned air for offices and other administrative spaces, as well as the large restaurant areas. These were selected with the specific combination of heating, cooling, and filtration modules to serve the 140+ VariTraneâ„¢ VAV terminal units serving these areas.

Trane account manager Mike McCabe notes that this installation is notable because of the generous work space allowed around all of the units.

"Very often, air handlers are installed in very confined spaces," he says. "This makes regular inspection and needed service difficult. In this case, they allowed plenty of room around the units. The technicians really appreciate that."

There are also 36 Trane fan-coils providing cooling in key equipment rooms, corridors, lobbies, and special use areas. All communicate with the Tracer Summit System to provide monitoring and control to key support areas.

Trane T-Series rooftop air handlers meet the high ventilation requirements for the casino.

Control System Plays Critical Role

The Tracer Summit building control system plays a critical role in assuring continuous good air quality.

"One of the best things we did was to go to the Summit system," says Madlangbayan. "We can precisely set conditions in different zones, and can closely monitor conditions in all of the areas."

The Summit system normally adjusts casino ventilation rates based on CO2 levels as an indicator of area occupancy, and also by measuring volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as an indicator of tobacco smoke levels.

Madlangbayan indicates that this is the standard control approach, but during periods of peak casino occupancy, usually in the late afternoon and evening, the control program overrides these control parameters and operates at maximum ventilation rates. This period typically extends for several hours. The Tracer Summit system also manages the chiller plant, determining when to use free cooling with the cooling towers, and the system interfaces with other building systems including fire and safety systems.

Web-Based Remote Control

McCabe points out that a key feature of the Summit system is its remote monitoring capabilities. The system is interconnected via the Barona Casino Ethernet network to a Web server, which allows operations to be monitored and adjustments made from any location with an Internet connection.

McCabe notes, "If Cesar gets a call at home on evenings or weekends, he can make any adjustments necessary without coming in here."

And that is A-OK with Madlangbayan.

"That's really a great feature, and the Web server solution is working great," he says.

In addition to the demanding casino system, the mechanical plant also includes the hotel and other facilities. The 400 hotel rooms and suites are equipped with horizontal concealed fan-coil units.

"We wanted a quality room comfort system," says Ruecker. "These fan-coils give us this very reliable and quiet system with capabilities for individual room control."

The fan-coils are served by the same central plant as the rest of the facility.

Meanwhile, the wedding chapel has standalone Trane Voyagerâ„¢ rooftop air conditioners. The Golf Events Center has split-system DX units.

"We learned a lot from our earlier operations on this site," says Ruecker. "We now have a system that gives us pretty much everything we wanted in comfort, control, and operating efficiency. And we have a system that will take us a long way into the future. It's built to last."

The Barona Valley Casino provides a unique gaming experience in a setting reminiscent of the 1930’s ranch era when the Barona Reservation was founded.

Sidebar: Atmosphere Of The 1930s

At the Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino, the eight-story hotel has 400 rooms, and like the entire resort, features a casual but elegant style that evokes the 1930s decade when the reservation was established.

In a building separate from but connected to the hotel is the Barona Casino, comprising 310,000 square feet, with gaming opportunities, including 2,000 slots, 54 gaming tables, a bingo hall, poker room, and an off-track betting area. The casino building also includes a wide range of amenities including three restaurants, a food court, a huge four-sided fireplace, and views of the adjacent hillsides and the golf course.

The architect for the facility was Bergman, Walls & Associates of Las Vegas, and the general contractor was Hensel Phelps Construction Company, from their district office in Irvine, Calif. The mechanical engineer for the project was FEA Consulting Engineers of Las Vegas, and the mechanical contractor for the piping, plumbing, and sheet metal work was A.O. Reed & Co. of San Diego.

Publication date: 12/22/2003

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