METROPOLIS, Ill. — When Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. took over the Players Island riverboat casino here last year, it announced a $67 million expansion project.

A crane was used to move the Trane units from the dockstream to the rooftop staging area.
METROPOLIS, Ill. — When Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. took over the Players Island riverboat casino here last year, it announced a new name: Harrah’s Metropolis Casino. The company also announced a $67 million expansion project. In addition to new gaming facilities, three former fuel barges would be welded together to create the platform for a 72,000 sq. ft., two-story floating administration building and entertainment complex, to be built adjacent to the docked casino.

Paducah, Ky.-based Triangle Enterprises was selected as the project’s mechanical contractor. The contractors lucky enough to be selected for the job knew it posed a number of challenges. According to plans for the $13 million undertaking, the barges were to be attached to a floating dock. Work was to start at a Paducah shipyard on the Tennessee River, about seven miles away from its permanent dock on the Ohio river in Metropolis. Partway through, the barges would be moved downstream and the structure would be docked again, this time on the Illinois side of the river. However, because the timing of the move depended on the water levels of the Ohio, the exact day would not be known.

“The water had to be deep enough to allow the facility to float over an existing navigational dam, but low enough to allow the two-story structure to pass beneath an interstate highway bridge that was adjacent to the final anchor site,” explained Jack Brockman, Triangle hvac and sheet metal manager.

Triangle employees who worked on the riverboat casino project included: (Bottom row, left) project manager J.P. Kelly, Jeff Stafford, Mike Buford, Kerry Smith; (top row, left) James Hall, Tom Hunter, David Johnson, Clay Swindler. Project foreman William Vaughn is not pictured.

Not much time

In addition, the construction schedule was brisk — less than six months — and access to the structure for contractors, materials and equipment would be via a vehicle gangway. Workers would also have to avoid interfering with crews working on marine vessels in the shipyards.

Triangle would fabricate all of the complex’s ductwork and install it along with the rooftop hvac, kitchen exhaust fans and make up air systems. However, the company wouldn’t have much time, according to project manager J.P. Kelly. “We started work in February (2001) and had to be done and out of there in three months,” he said.

At Triangle’s sheet metal shop, it would take six workers about two months to fabricate the estimated 35,000 lbs. of galvanized rectangular steel ductwork, along with some spiral, for the project. Due to seasonal flooding and varying level of the river, no storage, staging or laydown was permitted on site. Ductwork was delivered on an as-needed basis. The finished ductwork was loaded on a truck, then taken to the barge where only one truck could driven down the dock at a time. And since the project was technically taking place aboard a floating vessel, workers had to follow maritime safety rules, which meant life jackets had to be worn at all times, in addition to normal protective gear.

A specially-designed cart was used to help move the hvac units across the roof into place.

The ‘scary’ part

And while the installation of the ductwork presented no problems, there was a part of the job which Kelly said was initially “scary” — figuring out how to set the five Trane rooftop units into place atop the structure. The semi-truck which delivered the units was too big to fit down the dock. The heaviest unit weighed more than 12,000 lbs. And some of the 40-60 ton hvac units were to be set in locations almost 140 ft. off shore, where most cranes could not reach. They looked at using a helicopter to set each unit, but it was cost-prohibitive, Kelly said. “There’s a only two helicopters in the country able to do it,” he said, adding, “and the nearest one was in Oregon.”

Another difficulty: the building’s roof was made of 18 ga. decking with seven inches of foam insulation and a rubber membrane — hardly the kind of material that could withstand moving around that kind of weight. So the company turned to Triangle engineer Chuck Hillman, who designed a cart 10 ft. deep and 34 ft. wide that would fit over the top of the hvac units. The cart, which helped more evenly distribute the units’ weight, had eight sets of double pneumatic tires. Using a crane, the cart was set down on scaffold boards and workers would slowly roll each unit across the roof to the curb. “We put two layers of plywood decking down to… keep it from creating ruts in the roof,” Kelly said.

Projects such as the casino barge are quite a departure from what Triangle Enterprises started out doing.

The company was founded in 1954 by Kelly’s grandfather, R.M. Robinson, as a union shop insulation contractor. The company mostly did boiler work for firms in the Tennessee valley until 1978, when it added a sheet metal operation. Employees of the division are members of Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) Local 110. An hvac service division was added in 1996. About 70% of Triangle’s business is commercial work, but the firm also does industrial work for clients such as Atofina Chemical Co. and General Electric’s’ plastics division. It also maintains a delivery and service fleet consisting of 31 trucks, eight service vans and four passenger cars at its four-acre complex.

The new addition to Harrah’s Metropolis Casino officially opened last month. The popular destination attracts more than 2 million visitors annually. Since it opened in 1993, the casino has provided the city and state with more than $45 million in tax revenue. Harrah’s Entertainment is one of the largest gambling corporations in the world, operating facilities in Las Vegas, Louisiana, New Jersey and many more.