By Annie Carbutt
When the idea for the Mountain America Center was mapped out, one consistent goal survived every draft: to build a structure that could offer a quality experience for everyone who walked through its doors. If you drive past the new building on 1690 Event Center Dr. , what you’ll see will likely impress you, even just from the outside.
I had a chance to tour the center myself and get the behind-thescenes scoop on all the planning and work that went into it. From concept to completion, the center is a masterpiece (though at the time of publication the building is still in its final stages).
I spoke with Rob Spear, executive director of the Idaho Falls Auditorium District, for all the details. Rob not only told me about the extensive construction process for the center, he also shared his personal formula for a great customer experience in the designing of a building.
“A safe environment plus a quality video and audio experience plus a variety of food and beverage options equals a fantastic customer experience,” he said. “And that’s what we’ve worked to provide here. We haven’t cut any corners.”
Indeed, they haven’t. Let’s take a tour of this impressive facility.
THE HERO ARENA
Undoubtedly the most well-known and anticipated aspect of the Mountain America Center is the Hero Arena, named after its sponsor Hero Meat Snacks. Its large capacity and versatility makes this space something special. The arena space is a whopping 27,000 square feet. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. It’s memorable.
Because of its size, the arena can accommodate a variety of events, tournaments and concerts, with seating capacity flexing from 4,200 to 6,000 people, depending on the type of event. But space isn’t the only aspect that makes the arena versatile. In so many ways, it’s the arena’s floor that allows for such a wide range of uses.
THE ICE FLOOR
The Hero Arena is equipped with a National Hockey League-quality ice floor. What does this mean for Idaho Falls? This means the arrival of hockey tournaments, for starters, but also events like Disney on Ice, ice racing and other skating events.
But how can the space be used for anything other than hockey or skating when the ice is down? you might wonder.
That’s what makes the floor so impressive.
The ice doesn’t have to go anywhere for the space to be used for non-ice events. And we’re talking an endless variety of events. Think rock concerts and comedy acts and fly fishing expos and MMAA tournaments. Think Cirque du Soleil, rodeo bull riding and even monster truck rallies.
That’s right. The Hero Arena can accommodate a monster truck rally on top of a floor of dirt while a perfect layer of ice lies preserved beneath varying layers of protection. And the ice won’t even crack.
The floor is an engineering marvel, and it was no small feat to install it.
The installation process began with pouring a layer of sand followed by the laying of hot water pipes to prevent freezing in the cement slabs that would later be poured. More sand was layered over the pipes and then additional pipes were installed for ice making. These pipes contain glycol which freezes the ice. On top of this went structural insulation to maintain optimal temperatures for the ice. Last of all, a layer of concrete was poured on top.
The concrete pouring process required a great deal of expertise to ensure everything was done properly. In late July, the crew poured over 300 yards of concrete in one day. Because everything had to be done quickly and precisely before the concrete started to set, the process was started at 3:30 a.m. and went on into the evening before it was finished. It was critical that the concrete not vary more than 1/8 of an inch across the whole slab.
“They say skaters can actually feel if the ice varies more than an eighth of an inch,” Rob explained. “Fortunately, the concrete pouring process went very smoothly. The subcontractors who did it said this was one of the best pours they’ve ever done and the result is a high-quality ice floor.”
The concrete had to cure for 28 days before the crew could start working within the bowl area of the arena again. Because of the amount of work the varying subcontractors had to do above and around the bowl area of the arena, some serious coordination was required to ensure everyone could get their work done in time for the pouring of the concrete slab.
Rob explained how amazing it was to successfully complete something as critical and technical as the installation of the ice floor within a limited time frame, especially considering the amount of cooperation this required among subcontractors. He said this kind of coordinated work has been a hallmark of the entire construction process for the center.
“The sequencing of all the various subcontractors is no small thing,” he said. “The contractor Bateman and Hall has done a wonderful job sequencing and getting the subcontractors in when they want to be there so they can work amongst themselves. And when it hasn’t been possible for subcontractors to be alone in a space and do their own work uninterrupted, everyone has done a great job of working together. At one time we had 15 or 16 different subcontractors in the bowl area of the arena trying to complete their own work. And they did it.”
Rob has noted the pride everyone has taken in the completion of this building, regardless of the role they’re playing.
“The people who have labored to construct this facility know that it’s a once-in-a-generation facility. They want to put out a quality product because they understand their work will be observed by many over the life of the building.”
The ice floor is not the only area that required coordination from subcontractors, and it’s also not the only area in the building with impressive tech behind it. As Rob explained, there is so much more.
HIGH-TECH VIDEO AND AUDIO SYSTEMS
“We have installed two 12-ft. by 22-ft. 5.9 mm video boards. These offer a very clear picture, better even than most television sets,” Rob said. “We also have a 30-in. ribbon board that runs the length of the facility.”
In addition to the two very large video boards, the center also has numerous smaller screens throughout the facility for displaying ads. One exciting technology incorporated into the system is IPTV, which stands for internet protocol television. In layman’s terms, this technology allows different ads to display on each of the different screens at one time rather than only one ad displaying on all screens. Rob explained why this is exciting and significant.
“We wanted to equip the facility for future technology, and this allows that,” he said, “but it’s more than just that. We also wanted to get away from static signage. We wanted to take a space that would have sold for $1,000 for a year and sell it 10 times for $200. Now we’ve doubled our money and mom-and-pops in the community can afford to run an ad that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. We all win.
“And from an audio standpoint, our acoustics are unbeatable. The speakers in the system have adjustable directivity so we can focus or broaden the sound. This allows us to supplement groups who bring in their own sound systems. What we’ve been promised is that we can create an ‘intelligibility factor’ of 0.7, 1 being optimal. and 0.7 being as good as some concert halls. This allows us to offer a quality audio experience.”
If visitors to the center aren’t fully enjoying themselves from the audio and visual experience alone, their experience with the concessions will surely do the trick. As Rob explained, the goal was to bring in concessions that were unique and varied to accommodate a variety of tastes and dietary preferences. They also wanted concessions that had a local flair to them.
“We didn’t want generic concessions,” Rob said. “We’re bringing in five unique branded concessions including Eagle Rock Burgers and Brews, Crafty Pete’s Pie Shack, El Flamingo Taco Place, Coyote Country Barbecue and Topo Tato. We feel really good about the customer experience we’re going to deliver.”
Visitors will also be able to purchase food and beverages directly from their seats with QR codes. They can then pick up their orders when they’re ready. There will be kiosks throughout the facility, which will not only offer convenience but also decrease lines and increase safety. Safety is a priority at the center.
HIGH-TECH VENTILATION SYSTEM
Nowhere has safety been considered above and beyond what’s normally expected than with the air filtration system at the center.
“The arena gets 1.9 outside air exchanges per hour,” Rob said. “A hospital room gets 2 outside air exchanges per hour. The conference center gets 3.8 outside air exchanges per hour, so almost double what a hospital room gets. In addition to that, we increased the thickness of the filters and installed seven air handling units containing ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) lights. When the air comes through and is recirculated, these ultraviolet lights zap any airborne pathogens. This helps inhibit the replication of any viral fungal bacterial organisms. So the Mountain America Center is really a safe place for people to gather, which is more important now than ever.”
BLUE CROSS OF IDAHO CONFERENCE CENTER
While the Hero Arena may be the part of the center people think of in connection with concerts and hockey games, the Blue Cross of Idaho Conference Center is ideal for corporate events, conferences, banquets and more. The spacious and well-equipped kitchen outside of the conference room especially makes this space usable for a variety of events.
“It’s a fabulous kitchen space,” Rob said. “We really went for quality with the kitchen design. The kitchen is huge and will be a great amenity for so many people wanting to use the conference space for luncheons and banquets. For large events the kitchen will also serve the mezzanine level in Hero Arena.”
AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE FOR EVERYONE
At the end of the day, the Mountain America Center is designed so that anyone who enters can have a fantastic experience. One amenity that helps provide this is Wi-fi throughout the building provided by Silver Star Communications. There is even a mezzanine on the second level called the Silver Star Skydeck. Silver Star has ensured that everyone in the facility can have fast internet access to improve their experience.
The comfort and experience of visiting artists has also been considered. Two 50-amp electrical outlets have been installed in the back of the building for traveling artists to pull up and plug in their motorhomes so they don’t even have to worry about running a generator or finding another place to plug in.
Whoever walks through the doors, they’re guaranteed to have a quality experience. That’s what the Mountain America Center is all about.
For More Information: www.mountainamericacenter.com 208-932-2729