Karl’s Event Rental constructs nearly one million square feet of tenting for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
By Janice Kleinschmidt and Janet Preus
As the main provider for tents at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, Karl’s Event Rental of Milwaukee, Wisc. was hard at work for months preparing for the February 12 opening of the games. In late September, a crew of about 50 carpenters and tent installers were in the early building stages for mountain venues, trying to get as much structure and floor built as possible before inclement weather.
Vancouver had already had a sprinkling of snow by that time—a fact that may have delighted many of the athletes preparing for the competition, but one that tested the skills and determination of building crews. The weather soon blessed the mountain locations with about 76 inches of snow per week for part of the building schedule. “It was definitely a challenge,” says site project manager Mindy McPherson. Karl’s workers had fortunately transported the majority of products needed and pre-staged early in the process, in anticipation of the difficulty of moving around in winter weather.
It was just one of many hurdles that required careful maneuvering. Staff and overlay managers prepared installation schedules months in advance, says Keith Eismann, who helped to manage the complex operation. Due to multiple vendors and sites—as well as weather issues—the schedule was “super critical,” Eismann says. “Every supplier, whether it be Karl’s or plumbers or whatever vendors are working inside, it’s imperative that you are true to the schedule that’s set before you.” Planning meetings involved everyone. “Only we know how long it takes to do our tent and flooring. Only plumbers know how long it takes them,” Eismann says. By early December, Karl’s had already started the handover to other contractors.
Tents and more tents
The final count was 550 tents for 29 locations for a total of about one million square feet of tenting—as ordered. The largest structure is the dining hall, measuring 45 by 95 meters, which presented Karl’s with its most distinct challenges. Plumbing had to be ‘spotted’ and concrete grease traps poured before installation of the floor, which includes carpet, linoleum and checker plate. Flooring sections were laid over and around plumbing, electrical and gas lines. Drywall had to be installed to section off cooking areas and to hide plumbing and electrical components.
Additional tents were constructed for storing equipment and food service items, protecting timing officials from the weather, and sheltering visitors arriving at the airport. Features include rigid and tempered-window walls and access ramps and staircases. Mountainside venues created unique issues to surmount—for example, building the front of a tent 30 feet higher than the back end.
How it happened
In September 2008, the Vancouver Organizing Committee awarded Karl’s a contract to supply 550 tents for the Olympics, which runs Feb. 12–28, and the Paralympics, running March 12-21. Karl’s immediately began designing, engineering, manufacturing and planning.
“The fantastic news is our inventory when the contract was signed was 1.8 million square feet,” says president John Schlueter. “The bad news, which is also good news, is all of that structure was spoken for.”
“We have had times in Karl’s history where we have doubled our structure [inventory], and we find a place for it,” Schlueter says. “We’re proud of the relationships that our people have with industry experts all across North America, and our history reflects that we will actually be short of material in 2010 after the Olympics.”
Karl’s worked with timing officials, caterers, power distribution and HVAC personnel and transportation providers in planning and design. “We get involved in just about every aspect,” Schlueter says. “It’s been a learning experience, discovering some best practices.” Also, because two of Karl’s locations (Fredrick, Md., and Milwaukee, Wis.) are cold-weather environments, the company was able to provide some expertise about tenting in winter conditions.
Karl’s has taken the manufacturing process in stride, making an on-site commitment that peaked out at 225 employees, including administrators, planners and installers. The largest challenge may have been the logistics of delivering so many tents to such a variety of locations, from downtown Vancouver to Whistler mountain venues three hours away.
After working with people from many countries and international organizations, Karl’s has also learned to be more flexible. “We’re all learning from each other in how to be an integrated group,” McPherson says. It’s been a very worthwhile effort for the company’s growth as well, building confidence and a ‘level of finish’ among the staff. “We’re going to walk away with a far more experienced team and more team leaders,” she says. “We really have come together as a company and become stronger.”
Although Karl’s has worked on some of the largest events in North America (the last five Super Bowls; New York, Los Angeles, and Miami fashion weeks; NASCAR; PGA golf tournaments; and private events for Fortune 500 individuals), the 2010 Winter Games has given the company even greater international exposure.
The industry generally benefits as well, she says. The use of fabric structures at the Winter Games will give people outside the industry a broader look at how fabric products can be used to create a comfortable, safe atmosphere. “I think it will definitely paint a different picture and help them think outside the box,” she says.