When renovations called for the addition of a roof to the 19-year-old Arthur Ashe Stadium in the New York City borough of Queens, sheet metal contractors were hired to make and install ductwork at the tennis facility named for the late tennis star.

What’s the big deal? The roof, designed to protect players and fans alike from the often unpredictable weather in the Northeastern U.S., is retractable. Like Serena Williams’ biceps during a tennis volley, the ductwork would have to be able to flex and move.

Triple S Air Systems, a member of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association based in Ronkonkoma, New York, worked with general contractor Hunt Construction, mechanical contractor F.W. Sims Inc., M/E Engineering, and Rossetti Architects for about four months designing the complicated system that included 76-inch diameter ductwork, with 2-inch rigid liner board that could flex 6-12 inches when the roof retracted. No one on the team, including journeymen with decades of experience, had  ever seen a similar project before.

Rather than working independently, as is the norm, all design and construction contractors and suppliers, including roofing material manufacturer Johns Manville, came together early to collaborate on the project.

The completed project rises 125 feet on eight steel super-columns, supporting 4.4 acres of fabric membrane with two 500-ton panels that open and close over a 250-foot-wide opening.

“Coming up with a good solution required innovative thought, trial and error, and groundbreaking ideas from all concerned,” said Norman Neill, supervisor for Triple S Air Systems and a member of SMART Local 28, formerly the Sheet Metal Workers union. 

Hanging tough

Ultimately, the team used catenary cable systems hung from the new external steel skeleton to distribute the weight of the duct, allowing the ductwork to essentially move with the new retractable roof.

Triple S performed the ductwork fabrication in-house and then transported sections weighing between 650 to 1,250 pounds each to the stadium. Every piece was perfectly fabricated, which allowed for a smooth transition from the shop to the job site, and a clean installation. Because of this plan, Triple S completed the project under budget for field hours, said Steven Benkovsky, president of the company.

“Even with the design challenges, we completed the project ahead of schedule and under budget,” he said.

Based on Triple S’s success on the stadium, the company was recommended by contractors for the next project at the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Benkovsky attributed a large part of the company’s success to the training and expertise of its union workforce, who operated safely and efficiently on scaffolds and lifts nearly 100 feet off the ground.

“It really put us ahead of the competition,” Benkovsky added. “They’re willing to pony up a few extra dollars for us because we do good work.” 

This article and its images were supplied by Partners in Progress, a group that works to promote the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, and the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association.