Corrugated stainless steel tubing runs above the ceiling of the OCCC exhibit hall.
It didn't take long to figure out that the new addition to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando, Fla., lacked a certain important ingredient.

Completed in 2003, the North/South complex was constructed without the capacity to burn natural gas appliances for exhibitor displays. This fact disturbed members of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), who depend on the availability of natural gas to fuel their appliances.

In January 2004, GAMA members, who display in the American Gas Industry booth, of which GAMA is a sponsor, were given an unsatisfactory report from OCCC show management. They were informed that GAMA would be allowed to bring in one five-pound canister of propane each day and that it could not sit within 20 feet of another gas-burning appliance.

With the International Builders' Show (IBS) quickly approaching in January of 2005, and with the Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) to follow at OCCC less than a month later, GAMA had to do something.

It did not want to experience the same scenario as when the International Baking Industry Exposition came to Orlando. Local utility TECO Energy helped out that cause by supplying a small area of the West Hall with 2-psi gas pressure, having a 4- to 11-inch water column.

"This line was extended from the kitchen in the exhibit hall to a small area in the exhibit space," said Mary Carson, coordinator of the American Gas Industry booth and program manager of GAMA's Vent-Free Gas Products Alliance. "This was not an answer to future gas needs in the competitive world of convention halls."

Chris McCarthy, OCCC supervisor of event facilities (left), and John Plescia, OCCC events operations manager, view some of OCCC's mechanical equipment.

Time For Action

Since the demand for burning natural gas at the 2005 IBS was far more than a temporary line could handle, members of the American Gas Industry booth - which consists of the American Gas Association (AGA), GAMA, the Propane Educational Research Council (PERC), the Southern Gas Association (SGA), Gas Technology Institute (GTI), the American Public Gas Association (APGA), and the Florida Natural Gas Association (FNGA) - banded together to call in the assistance of TECO Energy again.

The importance of having natural gas available to the American Gas Industry booth was the group's first priority. This booth features 28 products from 18 GAMA members, eight trade associations, and 25 natural gas utilities, which display the latest in residential gas equipment.

Chris McCarthy, OCCC supervisor of event utilities, and John Plescia, OCCC events operations manager, played key roles in bringing the much-needed natural gas to the convention center. They were assisted by OCCC event utilities technicians Mike Smith and Jim DeSanto, who worked under the close supervision of Orlando-based Bry-Ann's Plumbing & Mechanical.

"Bry-Ann's designed the project and looked after us to make sure we were doing everything correctly according to the design," said McCarthy. "The whole project took us three weeks to complete, from start to finish."

What is now currently in place is actually the preliminary gas system, noted Plescia. "We intend to fully pipe the entire hall," he said, noting that the first task was to pipe in natural gas for the 2005 IBS and the 2005 AHR Expo.

According to Plescia, OCCC management had completed the design of the convention center and natural gas never came up as a major need.

"Shows started popping up that needed natural gas," he said.

"Whatever the natural gas industry is doing now to promote its use at shows is working. The message is getting out there and because of these short-term measures, we have budgeted $300,000 to completely pipe the North/South complex."

An overhead view of corrugated stainless steel tubing above a booth at the AHR Expo.

The Project

Because the Florida Building Code did not address temporary gas installations, the operations crew of the convention hall immediately started to work with the Orange County Building Department to plan permanent installations. The National Fuel Gas Code was referenced in the design and installation of the permanent lines.

OCCC also worked very closely with Lt. Delories Miranda, who is OCCC's resident fire marshal. Because of the partnership of Miranda's office, the task of adding natural gas meters, main, and corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) throughout the building became a reality in a very short period of time.

"We got a lot of cooperation from the Orange County Fire & Rescue, as well as the Orange County Building Department," said Plescia. "We are talking about burning things inside of an exhibit hall!

"Mechanical engineers did all of the air studies and got code officials to determine that there is adequate combustion air and it is safe for exhibitors."

By December 2004, the meter and lines to pipe the gas into the hall were in place. However, the placement of lines - constructed of hard iron pipe and scheduled to run to the exhibit space - was behind schedule. The push was on to speed up the project. OCCC operations had to pipe one-half of the building by the end of the year to accommodate large shows.

At this point, 1,500 feet of two-inch CSST, 2,000 feet of 3/4-inch pipe, 2,000 feet of 1/2-inch pipe, and 1,000 feet of 1-inch pipe were put into place just prior to the January 2005 opening of the IBS expo. The day the show opened, the hall was capable of providing a 4 million Btu capacity over a 1,000-foot distance.

"Once the entire building be-comes piped, each run will be a 3-inch pipe in excess of a thousand feet," said McCarthy. "There will be a total of four runs, with a total capacity of 24 million Btu."

Thanks to the project and forward thinking of OCCC operations, the giant convention center will now be able to play host to many more events.

"From a marketing perspective, this opens up a whole segment of trade shows that we never considered," said Plescia. "For example, the International Bakers Association is coming to us and they wouldn't have if we didn't have natural gas.

"GAMA is doing their thing," he added. "The word is out there that natural gas is good."

GAMA President Evan Gaddis spread praise for the project to several groups. "GAMA; Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association; AHR; National Association of Home Builders, and Southern Gas Association are all to be congratulated for making the availability of gas at OCCC a reality," he said.

Publication date: 08/08/2005