By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the September 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
In February 2007, the oldest hotel in the state of Oklahoma resumed operations after nearly 20 years of sitting dormant. The grand re-opening of “The Skirvin”—as it’s affectionately called by locals—was declared an official Oklahoman Centennial event (the state celebrated its 100th years of statehood the same year), and since then, the 225 room hotel has been a welcome “re”addition to the city’s downtown.
Now operating as the Skirvin Hilton, the hotel was originally opened in 1911 by a wealthy businessman, William Balser “Bill” Skirvin. At that time, it was comprised of two 10 story towers containing a total of 225 guest rooms and suites. With business booming, Skirvin added a third tower in 1926 and began an expansion to bring the entire hotel up to 14 floors two years later. In 1930, there were 525 rooms in all.
Until Skirvin’s death in 1944, and the subsequent sale of the hotel in 1945, the property was a lively part of Oklahoma City’s social scene. Its clientele included presidents, entertainers, and wealthy private citizens. The second owner operated the hotel until 1963, when it was sold to a group of investors. For the next 40 years, through numerous owners, the hotel’s operation endured ups and downs until it was shuttered indefinitely in 1988.
Restoring The Hotel
Bringing “The Skirvin” back to life was the result of a public/private partnership launched several years prior. The city had purchased the property in 2002 with the intention of finding a way to restore the historic landmark and return it to operation. (In 1980, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.)
This vision began to come into focus in 2003 when Skirvin Partners, LLC, a partnership between Milwaukee, WI-based Marcus Hotels and Resorts (the majority equity owner) and Skirvin Partners in Development, won the contract for the restoration and reuse of the hotel. With Oklahoma City retaining the rights to the land, the hotel was redeveloped as a Hilton Hotels property and now operates as the Skirvin Hilton Oklahoma City.
In planning the restoration, the principals at Skirvin Partners, LLC identified a central goal of returning the hotel as closely as possible to its original grandeur and appearance. The Milwaukee, WI office of Kahler Slater Architects was hired to provide architectural services (the firm is recognized for its historic hotel restoration projects).
A complete renovation was launched during the winter of 2005. The hotel was gutted, taking care to maintain appropriate historical elements including moldings, tiles, and ceiling treatments.
A Chat With David Meeh, director of engineering & maintenance, Skirvin Hilton
What are your responsibilities at the Skirvin Hilton? I am the director of engineering and maintenance for the facility. My staff and I oversee the day to day operation of the systems within the facility.
How long have your worked at the Skirvin? I have worked here for three years.
How many years have you worked in the facility management profession? I have been in the profession for 20 years.
What notable changes have occurred in hospitality facilities management during your tenure in the industry? Energy management and the migration towards being green have increased. In each of my previous properties, we have always been a part of these programs.
What challenges have these changes presented to you? The basic challenge is getting people on board and thinking about it. It’s simple to turn the light on in your office and to recycle, but it has to become a part of your everyday duties so you do it automatically like you would when you tie your shoes.
How have the changes made your work easier? These types of changes don’t necessarily make things simpler, but they are the right thing to do. Computer controls have made day to day tasks simpler. It’s easier to control the building environment with the technology we have today. You still need to check things physically, but the monitoring processes have become much easier.
What other projects are you working on at the hotel? In addition to the historic projects [described in the main article], we are working on capital expenditures (capex) projects within the facility. Capex projects within an historic building like the Skirvin require a little more research and approvals from not only our parent company, but if they affect anything historic, they require state and national government approvals as well.
One preservation example is the Venetian Room on the 14th floor, which was built during the 1928 expansion. In those days, this space housed a supper club featuring live music and dancing. Paneled with American walnut, the Italian Renaissance style room had a floor constructed of alternating blocks of red and white oak polished to a high sheen. The arched ceiling was covered with acoustic tile. The restoration of this room—now the Venetian Ballroom—included maintaining as much of the original elements as possible, including the carved molding that decorates the arched ceiling panels.
“The goal was always tied to urban renewal,” says David Meeh, director of engineering and maintenance at the Skirvin since its re-opening. “The city did not want to tear the building down, and Marcus [Hotels and Resorts] owns and operates other historic hotels. Restoring old hotels is a niche for the company.” Other historic Marcus properties include the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, WI and the Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, MO.
Accomplishing the restoration required working with Oklahoma’s State Preservation Office to ensure the project would reap the federal and state tax credits that had been awarded for retaining existing original elements when possible and duplicating those lost over time. In some instances, historic preservation prevented the incorporation of certain plans.
“The project initially called for more guest rooms, but we couldn’t do it, because some historic portions of the building couldn’t be demolished,” explains Meeh. “This included some interior walls and guest room hallways.”
As during the restoration process, the Skirvin’s historic status requires Meeh to follow protocol outlined by the federal and state historic preservation offices for related subsequent changes to the building. While the historic aspect is a first for him, Meeh characterizes this mandate as “interesting, more so than challenging.”
He describes a completed project, which involved waterproofing the parapets on the building exterior from the 12th floor up to the 14th floor. Meeh’s team had identified moisture on the walls in some of the rooms on those floors.
“In the Continental Room, we were seeing effervescing on the interior,” he says. “Moisture was being pulled through the brick and appearing on the plaster walls on the inside. We discovered this was due to the fact that the new HVAC system is so powerful; we were literally pulling moisture through the porous brick.”
During the restoration project, the brick had been cleaned and repaired. However, no sealing or waterproofing had been done.
To solve this problem while complying with historic rules, Meeh says, “I needed to create a sample area of what we would do to the structure, take pictures, define the scope of work, provide product information, and send those materials for review by my contact at the state historic office who then forwarded it to the appropriate office in Washington, DC.”
Another historic project involves 1,200 square feet of wood flooring original to the Skirvin. Materials were salvaged during demolition and reused in the elevator lobbies on the 14th floor. However, as Meeh explains, “it didn’t hold up very well, which made it a safety hazard.”
The floor will be replaced by new materials that mimic the original. Meeh has followed protocol for historic preservation and has received approval to proceed. “The floor is here,” he says, “but it will take 16 days to install, and it is difficult to find a stretch of time where we can block off the lobbies. We will need to close down the 14th floor.”
Behind The Scenes
As might be expected in the restoration of a facility out of operation for 17 years, the project included the installation of new building systems. “We didn’t reuse any of the original systems,” says Meeh. “All the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC was replaced. Everything was taken out and brand new equipment put in.”
Two technologies that Meeh highlights in discussing his new building systems are heat exchangers and hydronic equipment.
Defined by the U.S. Department of Energy as “a device for transferring thermal energy from one fluid to another,” heat exchangers are used at the Skirvin to supply domestic hot water. “These provide plenty of hot water on demand,” says Meeh. “I never have to worry about having a storage issue. We heat water with steam and run it through the heat exchangers, which then heat the water.
“This is my second building with heat exchangers,” he continues, “and I think they are one of the best technologies to have come to our industry. Heat exchangers have been around a long time, but the technology has been refined over time. In my previous hotel, which had 800 rooms, we had four heat exchangers and never ran out of hot water.”
Meeh also enjoys the space saving benefit of heat exchangers compared to installing hot water storage tanks. The Skirvin uses four heat exchangers, and Meeh notes their relatively compact size: “The heat exchangers we have are not any taller than me, and each is set on a 2′ x 2′ pad.”
Hydronic technology is used for space heating, another innovation that Meeh finds to be very efficient. The Hydronic Heating Association defines this process as the “heating of a building by radiation from panels containing hot water.”
“We have the best of both worlds,” says Meeh. “We have chilled water for cooling, and we have hydronic heating, which I think is the most efficient way to heat.” (For added efficiency, all guest room windows were replaced with low-e glass windows; many existing windows in other areas remained due to historic value.)
Even with new building systems, Meeh notes the equipment requires changing levels of attention over time. “It usually takes about a year and a half to ‘shake the building out,’” he says. “Then, from year one to year five, you’re performing maintenance on the systems. After five years, things begin to break down, not due to lack of maintenance, but simply wear. We are past the shake out period and are kind of on ‘cruise control” right now.”
With urban renewal and historic preservation as core goals, Meeh identifies his favorite aspect of the hotel’s rebirth as the pride that everyone—hotel staff, as well as city and state officials—takes in the revived facility. “The city has really embraced the hotel,” he says. “Everyone has a Skirvin story, and they know how historically significant it is to the area. To be part of the rebirth has been absolutely my favorite part.”
This article was based on an interview with Meeh. For more on this hotel, visit www.skirvinhilton.com.
Name Of Facility: Skirvin Hilton. Type Of Facility: Existing. Function Of Facility: Hospitality. Location: Oklahoma City, OK. Square Footage: 255,000. Budget: $55 million. Construction Timetable: 15 months. Cost Per Square Foot: $215. Facility Owner: Marcus Hotels & Resorts. In-House Facility Manager/Project Manager: David Meeh, director of engineering; John Williams, general manager. Architect: Kahler Slater. General Contractor/Construction Manager: Flintco. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: PSA Consulting. Structural Engineer: Trumble Dean. Interior Designer/Lighting Designer: Duncan & Miller. Landscape Architect: Oakley’s, Inc.
Furniture: Astoria; Harrison Gils; Kimball Hospitality; Westwood Interiors. Flooring: Armstrong (vinyl composition tile); Dal-Tile; Johnsonite (cove base). Carpet: Axminster; Tai Ping. Ceilings: USG. Wallcoverings/Textiles: MDC Wallcoverings; National Wallcovering. Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Fabrics: Bergamo; Dunlee; Integra Fabrics; Pollack Fabrics; Robert Allen; Valley Forge. Flame Proofing: Schneider Textile Finishing. Acoustics/Sound Masking: USG Ceilings. Movable Walls: Modernfold. Office Equipment: HP. Building Management System/Services: Work Tech Pro & Work Place Pro (software programs for HVAC System). Security System Components: Honeywell. Fire Alarm Components/Safety Equipment: SimplexGrinnell. Lighting Products: Lutron (lighting controls, dimming system). HVAC Equipment: Aerco; International Environmental; Inviro-tec; Temptrol; Titus. Power Supply Equipment: Eaton Cutler Hammer. Back Up Power (UPS): Onan Generator. IT Infrastructure: IBM. Roofing: Johns Manville. Exit Signs: Dual Lites; Sure Lites (Cooper Lighting). Windows: Hopes Windows. Window Treatments: Kojo-Dallas; Miceli. Elevators/Escalators: Kone Elevator.