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Finding Chiller Solutions in Time for the NHL Season

Project Highlights
  • Designed an approximately 2,800 ton replacement chilled water plant for a 19,000-seat NHL Arena
  • Employed a prefabricated modular chiller plant model to accommodate the tight construction window
  • Completed in September 2022, ahead of the NHL season start, without interruption to building occupancy


SSR has had the privilege of working at Amalie Arena, home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, for nearly a decade as one of their primary consulting engineers. This relationship has spanned numerous projects from equipment replacement to substantial renovations. During this past hockey off season, construction was completed for a new chilled water central plant for the Arena.

Originally opened in 1996, the Arena’s existing chilled water plant had reached the end of its useful life and needed replacement. In addition to replacing the aging equipment, the new plant also provided the Arena with the flexibility to plan for future chilled water needs and helped improve the chilled water performance of their existing mechanical systems. The facility’s staff worked with SSR to explore two options to replace the existing plant:

  1. A traditional built-up construction method that would utilize the same space as the existing central plant inside the Arena
  2. A new modular plant that would be located in an adjacent equipment yard outside the Arena

Amalie Arena ultimately opted for the modular plant option as it allowed for quicker construction and reduced down time during the summer event schedule. The modular plant option also had the benefit of freeing up valuable square footage inside the Arena that could now be repurposed for other needs.


Using a Modular Chiller Plant

The Tampa Bay Lightning is Amalie Arena’s primary tenant and in recent years have experienced tremendous success on the ice, having appeared in the Stanley Cup finals the last three seasons (2020, 2021, and 2022). This success translates into a very brief off-season window for facility improvements. Knowing this, SSR and the construction team worked closely with the ownership and facilities team to devise a schedule that would be ready to go as soon as the season ended.

The selected modular chiller plant option allowed for most of the construction to be completed off site and quickly assembled upon arrival. The modular plant manufacturer used for the project was local to the Tampa area and handled the initial assembly of the plant. The plant was constructed off site in modular pieces that included all the mechanical equipment, electrical components, and piping assemblies. At the end of July, the four completed modular sections were delivered by truck to the Amalie Arena equipment yard. The sections were set and connected over the following days. Each module had pre-installed mechanical pipe fittings and electrical quick connections for a seamless reconnection. Once the modular plant was reassembled, the construction team erected a steel structure that encompassed the modular plant to support all the pumps and cooling towers. Due to the stacked design, the entire 2,800 ton chiller plant and condenser water system occupied a footprint in the equipment yard smaller than 2,300 square feet.


Managing Project Responsibilities

The design of a modular plant is not too different than that of a built-up plant. However, there are unique challenges that must be considered. One item that must be addressed is how the design, procurement, and installation is divided up between the project team and individual trades. SSR found success by working closely with the modular plant manufacturer and construction team to develop a scope matrix at the beginning of the project. This allowed clear delineations of scope to be established early in the project and helped to streamline the project schedule.


Working with an Occupied Building

Specific to multipurpose venues such as Amalie Arena, a major challenge with capital improvement projects is avoiding interruptions to the year-round event schedule. Even though the Lightning were in their off season, the venue still hosted numerous concerts and other events. To minimize impacts to the summer event schedule, a temporary chiller plant was brought on site to avoid downtime during the changeover to the new modular plant. The location of the new outdoor plant also created some challenges due to the proximity to the building’s main loading dock that remained operational throughout construction.



Overall, the project went smoothly, and the new modular plant is operating successfully. Feedback from Arena ownership and operations was that the project timeline would not have been possible for a built-up plant. With the time saved by utilizing a modular plant, the construction schedule was limited to a single shift during the day. This helped to avoid the schedule and cost implications of running a second and third shift throughout construction.

Moving the plant outside the existing building allows for flexibility in the space for future projects. The design and construction team are currently working on a new, modernized ice plant for the venue. This ice plant will utilize the vacated space and allow the Arena to transition towards more environmentally friendly refrigerants. The construction for this will take place in the 2023 off-season.