CHICAGO - The Palmer House Hilton hotel boasts a history few other U.S. hotels can match. It also holds a special place in the hearts of the HVACR community; it is the regular meeting site for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) whenever the winter meeting takes place in Chicago, now every three years.

The grand hotel got an air conditioning upgrade this year thanks to Team Mechanical Inc. (TMI, Buffalo Grove, Ill.), which installed a new cooling tower. The equipment had to be helicopter lifted onto the roof of the 24-floor hotel.

TMI worked with manufacturer's rep Maddock Industries to purchase the new $250,000, 112,000-pound Marley Cooling Technologies cooling tower. That was the easy part.

Streets were shut down so that an S61 helicopter could lift cells of a Marley cooling tower onto the roof of the Palmer House Hilton.

Precious History

According to its management, the Palmer House is one of the oldest continuously running hotels in the country. The hotel is reported to be one of the first with electric light bulbs, elevators, and telephones. Its original construction was completed in 1817, but it burned down 13 days after opening its doors because of the Great Chicago Fire.

"At one time the Palmer house was the tallest building in the city, eight stories high, three of which were in its mansard roof," states James Goodsell in his History of the Great Chicago Fire, October 8, 9, and 10, 1871.

"The scene of its demolition [by the fire], which was more rapid than the account can be transmitted to paper, was inexpressibly grand. The march of the devouring element from this point to the lake was uninterrupted; the intervening buildings, including many of the finest private residences in the city, melting away like the dry stubble of the prairie."

The second Palmer House was built less than a year later. According to Electrical Construction & Maintenance magazine, "Laborers worked through the night to finish the country's first fireproof hotel."

The hotel has seen many illustrious guests in its time, including a concurrent visit by Mark Twain, then-General Ulysses S. Grant, and Generals Sherman, Sheridan, Logan, Vilas, Woodford, and Pope.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, notes that "On Nov. 13, 1879, the Palmer House was the scene of a grand banquet in honor of General Grant, who had just returned from his world tour. Twain attended ‘The Thirteenth Annual Banquet of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee.'

"As Albert Bigelow Paine put it, ‘it seemed to him that there was something strikingly picturesque in the idea of a Confederate soldier [Twain], who had been chased for a fortnight in the rain through Ralls and Monroe counties, Missouri, now being invited to come and give welcome home to his old imaginary pursuer [Grant].' Paine wrote, ‘Chicago has never known a greater event than that dinner ...'"

According to Fishkin, the second Palmer House was the one Twain visited. "It was later demolished as well. Building #3, designed by Holabird & Roche, was completed in 1924."

The current Palmer House structure offers four restaurants, an enclosed shopping arcade, and a fitness center with steam room, sauna, and indoor pool. ASHRAE attendees are well acquainted with the self-contained conference floor, which includes 38 function rooms and its own business center.

Once the equipment was in place on the roof, staff from manufacturer’s rep Maddock Industries worked with the TMI team to coordinate the installation of the new cooling tower.

Daunting Task

TMI, an industrial and commercial HVAC firm, undertook the installation of the new tower. The hard part was closing down Chicago's loop to lift several tons of equipment via helicopter onto the roof of the 24-floor historic hotel.

One weekend earlier this year, "State and Monroe streets were shut down so that an S61 helicopter, provided by Helicopter Transport Services and with a lift capability of 8,500 pounds, could lift four lower cells and four upper cells of a Marley four-cell cooling tower onto the roof of the Palmer House Hilton," the contractor reported.

"Weighing more than 7,700 pounds per piece, the helicopter lifted each of the eight pieces individually onto the roof, requiring a two-pilot operation."

Once the pieces were in place on the roof, staff from Maddock Industries worked with the TMI team to coordinate the installation of the new cooling tower, connecting new equipment to the existing condenser water piping and cooling tower system.

"Because Palmer House's cooling tower was old and the original manufacturer was no longer in business, the hotel did not want to spend money on costly repairs to fix an outdated machine," said Matt Maddock, president of Maddock Industries, a Chicago-area manufacturer's representative which counts Marley Cooling Towers, Armstrong Pumps, APV Heat Exchangers, Lakos Separators, and others among their clients. "It made sense for the Palmer House to purchase and install a new cooling tower with expert assistance from TMI," Maddock said.

Analyzed Costs

In order to help the Palmer House justify the capital expense of a new tower, Marley and Maddock conducted a productivity analysis - an audit of the original system and modeling of the new system.

According to TMI, this demonstrated how replacing the tower would pay for itself in reduced maintenance and energy savings. "The justification for upgrading was there," the contractor said. The audit revealed there would be more than $60,000 per year in energy savings alone.

The new stainless steel cooling tower is 23 feet, 4 inches tall and 22 feet, 5 inches wide, with a life expectancy of more than 25 years. Maddock also outfitted the tower with variable-frequency drives from Yaskawa.

"The best part about the new cooling tower is that not only will it keep guests cool, it is environmentally sound and will save the hotel money in the long term," said Bob Doessel, vice president of construction operations for TMI.

TMI is made up of HVAC industry veterans who average 20 years of experience, although the company itself was only founded in 1995. Rick Bartuska, himself a licensed professional engineer, drew together some of the area's finest HVAC talent.

Jerry Babiar heads TMI's Mechanical Service Division. Its services include: 24-hour service, quarterly maintenance, testing, boiler flue gas analysis, and full-service agreements.

According to Bartuska, "You can find someone to handle your job for less, but you won't find someone to do it better." Historic structures like the Palmer House Hilton deserve no less.

Publication date: 11/29/2004