On a project as highly anticipated as the expansion of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, the ability to meet tight construction schedules is paramount.

Guests are awaiting twice the amount of casino space, a Bora Bora-inspired pool paradise, an iconic hotel tower in the shape of a giant guitar, a new Hard Rock Live arena, and much more. It will be the ultimate venue for accommodations and entertainment when Super Bowl LIV comes to Miami in February 2020, so it must be good to go well before then.

With so much on the line and no time to waste, Suffolk-Yates, the general contractor, brought in the experienced team at Kirlin to handle the piping installation for the casino’s heated and chilled water systems.

Kirlin Senior Vice President Troy Norris says the company knew its approach would have to be as innovative as the project itself, and they were ready to take on the challenge.


An innovative approach

Kirlin needed to fabricate and install a piping system to connect a central chiller plant to all of the casino’s outlying buildings, including the iconic guitar-shaped hotel and spacious pool area. The company had originally planned to use carbon steel joined with mechanical couplings for the casino expansion and remodel, but when asked to take a second look at the jobsite setup, they decided the situation called for a more innovative approach.

To that end, Kirlin consulted with Ferguson, wholesale distributor of residential and commercial plumbing supplies and pipe-valves-fittings, to get Ferguson’s thoughts on how to mobilize the job and make sure it stayed on schedule.

Kirlin liked what it discovered about polypropylene-random (PP-R) pipe. It weighs up to 70% less than metal pipe, which allowed the installation crews to move, mobilize, and fabricate the pipe quickly and efficiently with less fatigue and risk of injury; it has an anticipated life span of 60 or more years; it is resistant to corrosion and scaling; and its virtually leakproof heat-fusion connections require no welding, open flames or fire watch.

After seeing what it offered, Norris says Kirlin adopted the fusible Aquatherm PP-R piping system as its new build strategy.


Overcoming the challenge of tight spaces

But Kirlin had another challenge to face — fusing large-diameter (24-inch) pipe with heavy fusion equipment that didn’t seem ideally designed for working in tight spaces. Kirlin discussed this with Ferguson, and Ferguson was able to offer a prototype butt fusion machine from McElroy, a longtime fusion machine manufacturer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The prototype was lightweight and designed specifically for work in close quarters.

Once Kirlin tried the prototype machine, Norris says they didn’t look back. It was unobtrusive to work with, easy to handle on a scissor lift, and featured a lightweight modular carriage.

Duane Hettich, category sales specialist for Ferguson, says that the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino project was the first opportunity to use the new Acrobat 630 on an indoor install of large-diameter PP-R pipe.

“Some of the installation felt like we were in a phone booth,” he says. “They had already installed stud walls, so we didn’t have an open space to work in.”

Almost all of the work on the 24-inch pipe was overhead and between walls — that meant nearly all of the fusions on the 24-inch pipe were done in the air on a scissor lift. But instead of having to lift the fusion machine’s entire carriage, Kirlin’s crews were able to remove the top jaws and place the cylinder assemblies, lower jaws and guide rods on the pipe first.

The top jaws and other components were then assembled around the pipe by hand. For smaller pipe on the project, Kirlin purchased from Ferguson two Acrobat 250 models, which butt fuse up to 8-inch pipe. For socket fusion, they used hand tools and leased several McElroy Spider 125s.


Good training leads to high productivity

Kirlin’s fusion operators were new to PP-R pipe and there was admittedly a learning curve. It was a product that changed their entire build modality, so good training was crucial.

“Ferguson did a phenomenal job of putting on numerous trainings,” Norris says. “They also were instrumental in having McElroy’s team engaged with us onsite.”

According to Norris, although Kirlin’s installation crews had to get used to working with a new pipe material and different fusion equipment, they were able to be very productive once they got to fusing.

“I know we’re getting more proficient with the more time the guys spend working with the product,” Norris says. “When we initially started out, we were approaching building strategy similar to carbon steel. Now we’re seeing more footage of PP-R pipe going up every day.”


Lightweight, offsite fabrication keep things moving

There were multiple construction projects going on simultaneously at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and Norris notes the light weight of PP-R was instrumental in keeping things moving on the piping end. He says that handling and transporting the PP-R pipe is dramatically easier than steel would have been.

“It allowed us to hang long runs of it overhead and get more pipe in the air quickly,” Norris says.

A significant portion of the fusion was completed offsite at Kirlin’s shop in West Palm Beach, Florida, about 20 miles north of the site, and Norris says that sped up the schedule greatly. The company scheduled pipe deliveries for nights and off hours, allowing them to maximize the amount of fusion work completed during the day.


Seven miles of pipe

Hettich says Ferguson supplied about seven miles of Aquatherm Blue Pipe in various sizes from 3/4 inch up to 24 inches for the expanded Hard Rock.

“We ran around 700 feet of 24-inch pipe in about eight days,” he says.

In addition, about 3,000 feet of PP-R for potable-water applications, from 2 inches through 8 inches, was used for the domestic water mains in the casino expansion.

Though not Ferguson’s biggest project to date (hospitals typically require the most pipe), it was more than they supplied during the massive renovation of the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Hettich says his customers like PP-R pipe for its durability and longevity.

“You have data centers that want it because it’s not prone to leaking. If you have a leak, it could wipe out 5,000 computers,” he says. “The same philosophy falls over to gaming. If you have a leak in the casino and gaming goes down, the loss is astronomical. People in gaming want it.”


A  remarkable turnaround

Using PP-R pipe allowed for installation of a significant amount of piping in a short timeframe and enabled Kirlin to overcome the project’s “need for speed” and actually move ahead of schedule.

Before this project, Norris says that Kirlin routinely used carbon or stainless steel pipe. But he thinks that will change in the future when bidding on projects where they see PP-R pipe being a great fit.

“Honestly, this job has kind of changed our building strategy, as well,” Norris says. “Now that we’ve gone through the learning curve, we don’t want to lose that momentum.”


This article was originally titled “Seminole Hard Rock Preps For Super Bowl LIV” in the February 2019 print edition of Plumbing and Mechanical.