It was 2003 and the ball was in motion. W. Jack Kalins,Split Rock Resort president/CEO, had decided he wanted to add a waterpark to our full service destination resort, and we had entered into a design agreement with architects, designers and consultants.
From the outset, it was obvious that the comfort of guests visiting the waterpark was vital, and early conversations focused on the critical need to balance water and air temperatures as well as humidity.
The architect suggested we look at heat recovery units, but our team knew little about them. Our experience was limited to the dehumidification systems in our indoor pools, which provided a certain level of comfort. Ultimately, however, after reviewing information and proposals for both directions, the final decision swayed in favor of the heat recovery.
At the time, our dehumidification vendor simply did not manufacture a piece of equipment large enough to efficiently treat the 1.8 million cubic feet of air in the planned 53,324-square-foot indoor waterpark. It would have required six dehumidification units vs. two heat recovery units. And so we prepared to jump outside our normal comfort zone.
Little did we know the new challenges that lay ahead.
The equipment went in, and H2Oooohh Indoor Waterpark opened in October 2008. Our goal was to learn to balance temperature and humidity, and maintain acceptable building pressure without raising our utility costs beyond expectations. Despite the fact that we had an entire team present for the start-up and training of personnel, we were quickly consumed with a number of day-to-day challenges of operating the HVAC system with the heat recovery units and establishing synergy with the rest of the building systems.
From the outset, we faced several major hurdles. Perhaps the most immediate issue involved the filters. Construction dust had lodged in the duct system and, left alone, it would have been sucked right through the ventilation equipment. Fortunately, we realized this early and even before the heat recovery and HVAC system was turned on, we ordered extra filters and scheduled maintenance to replace the dirty ones.
Within a few weeks of opening day, the weather had turned cold and our systems were running full steam. Right away we noticed that sensors indicated the propane burners on the recovery units were not operating properly. Solving the problem required input from everyone — from the HVAC and electrical contractors, the HRU manufacturers’ representative and even the manufacturers rep for our building management system. Flame rods, gas and pilot lights all had to be set at optimal settings, and that required collaborative consultation with each party.
An ongoing issue has been controlling building pressure. We discovered that when the recovery units were operating in “defrost” mode, the air balance in the building would expand, resulting in a whistling sound and causing some interior doors to push open. Alleviating the problem — and avoiding heat loss and the resulting increased utility expenses — required manual operation of damper controls and exhaust fan usage based on outdoor temperatures.
Ultimately, we discovered the building management system was not reacting to conditions that would trigger mechanically opening up the dampers. The solution was to better integrate communication between the HVAC system and the overall building control system, allowing the building to correctly respond to temperature and internal humidity.
However, in trying to establish synergy between the systems, we discovered that what might seem to require a simple fix is actually a very complicated equation. Just like a child, an indoor waterpark environment requires constant care and monitoring. After much trial-and-error troubleshooting, we’ve been able to establish what seem to be optimal set points. If waterpark conditions exceed 60 percent humidity or a temperature of 86 degrees, the exhaust fans cycle on automatically.
The challenges we faced undoubtedly would have caused even greater headaches were it not for one thing: From the beginning, we tracked and recorded everything on a daily basis, monitoring and adjusting temperature settings according to conditions to ensure optimal conditions while still controlling expenses.
Thanks to careful record-keeping, we now have a full year of data to look back on as we move forward. In the end, as a management team, we never lost sight of the fact that our guests’ health and comfort is paramount. And in spite of the learning curve, we feel confident the heat recovery units were the right way to go. Today eight seamless air exchanges per hour provide the “comfort zone” that allows our guests to remember the fun they had for years to come.