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PEMB Use Keeps SoCal Icy


Constructing California’s largest public ice arena meant designing a structure that could withstand the state’s warm temperatures and higher earthquake propensity.

But with pre-engineered building components that provided seismic durability and insulation, general contractor Swinerton, a member of multiple AGC chapters, produced a stunning, prefab marvel in completing the $100 million Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena sports complex in Irvine, California.

Serving as the training facility for the Anaheim Ducks National Hockey League team and as a venue for various sports and entertainment events, the 270,000-square-foot complex is Orange County’s first ice rink in 20 years. Not only is it the largest public ice facility in California but also one of the largest in the nation. Whereas most ice complexes feature three sheets of ice, this complex features three NHL rinks and one Olympic-sized rink where figure skaters can train. The facility also provides a public space for ice sports.

Because ice arenas are rarely built in southern California, the project involved a learning curve for several of the parties involved, explains Jessica F. Drake, senior project manager for Swinerton.

“We partnered with subcontractors and designers who specialize in ice rinks to assist our team and give us a leg up on critical aspects of the building,” says Drake.

Swinerton hired Rink-Tec, a Minnesota-based ice rink-building specialist, for its expertise in building professional skating facilities. The firm’s vast knowledge about ice rink construction helped ensure the project’s completion on schedule.


One of the most unique aspects of the Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena complex is its incorporation of pre-engineered metal buildings, or PEMBs. These structures are fabricated off-site and delivered to the jobsite for assembly, offering time and cost savings for projects. PEMBs are also designed to perform better than their traditional structural-steel counterparts in earthquakes. All of these considerations made PEMB construction an ideal option for the ice complex.

The project required large-span structures that offered unobstructed views. PEMBs, by design, are column-free frames that can accommodate large, open spaces while also offering flexibility. The arena’s PEMB structure spans over the four ice rinks without compromising seismic resilience.

Whereas most PEMBs are stand-alone structures, the Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena complex features a unique composition of two PEMBs and one conventional building in between, allowing the structures to move more flexibly during a seismic event and provide higher resistance to tremors. PEMBs can withstand seismic movement of up to 10 inches, which is five times as much movement as a conventional building can withstand.

Because of the structure’s complex design, Swinerton had to construct it with an undetectable space between the three buildings to allow for potential seismic movement.

Temperatures were another key consideration in constructing the ice arena, given California’s warm climate.

Use of PEMBs was beneficial for this reason too. According to Griffin Structures, which served as program and construction manager and the owner’s representative, the PEMB framework features insulated metal exterior paneling that provides the thermal envelope requirements to reduce building operating costs.

“The design of the wall and roof insulation was critical to the performance of the space,” Drake says. “Designing for 100-degree weather while keeping the inside of the building at 58 degrees is a challenge that we don’t usually face here.”

PEMBs are also a cost-efficient alternative to conventional building design for commercial buildings. Drake says the PEMB option cost 20 percent less than other structural systems the project team looked at.

The project initially considered a cast-in-place concrete model but opted for the PEMB model to meet scheduling demands. The PEMBs were prefabricated in Utah, shipped to California and then erected on-site. “So the timing was beneficial to the overall project,” Drake says.

According to Griffin Structures, the PEMB design and 19-month accelerated delivery schedule resulted in more than $3 million in project savings.


The Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena was built to serve a regional need for ice sports activities including youth and adult hockey, figure skating, tournaments and recreational skating for the public.

The complex’s main arena can hold 2,500 people and provide space for hosting various sporting and entertainment events. The complex features a sports bar, party rooms, classrooms and outdoor public spaces and amenities. The other side of the building will hold three ice rinks with a capacity for 500 people. One rink will be used for Olympic figure skating training, while the other two will be for various public ice-related sports. The middle building will house the facility’s lobby, the Ducks’ training center and offices.

The Irvine Ice Foundation, an affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, built the arena at Orange County Great Park through a public-private partnership with the city of Irvine. The city owns the public parks space.

The complex began construction in October 2017 and was awarded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. The facility opened in January 2019.

“Although it was a challenging technical project, I think it was delivered beautifully and is a keystone of that whole master plan,” Drake says. “It was not easy in any aspect, but the team worked really hard to deliver a really outstanding product at the end of the day.”


Mention pre-engineered metal buildings, and people might envision an unattractive metal building or industrial space.
But according to PEMB contractor Rich Cotner, anyone who’s ever worked with these structures knows they can be so much more.
PEMB structures can provide a building’s skeleton, but then a builder can cover that frame with stucco, brick, block or a host of other materials, he says.
“You can build just about anything out of PEMB,” Cotner says.
Cotner and his wife run PEMB Construction Inc., an Idaho AGC member, in Meridian, Idaho. They started the firm in 2010, but PEMB structures have been around for the better part of a century.
Seismic durability, along with cost and time savings, are among the key benefits of PEMB construction.
“PEMBs are built like a noodle,” Cotner says. “They’re designed to move.”
Any seismic movement transfers down through the structure’s steel members and into the concrete without allowing the structure to move so much that it collapses.
“It can take a lot of shaking and movement without collapsing like a rigid, steel building,” Cotner says.
PEMBs also use far less steel than a traditional steel-structure building, making them more affordable.A large market for PEMB structures isthe agricultural community, which needs large storage facilities for crops such as potatoes and onions.
“As you can imagine, farmers can’t afford a very large building engineered through hot-rolled steel,” he says.
It’s possible to build a multi-story building out of PEMBs, although there’s usually a break point past two stories that makes it more affordable to use structural steel.
“You end up having to make your first two stories so stiff that you’re basically designing a structural steel building anyway. So they do have their limitations,” Cotner says.
The biggest downfall in the PEMB industry, Cotner explains, is the lack of expertise and experience structural engineers have when it comes to using this type of structure. Colleges teach basic structural engineering principles that focus on conventional structural steel design, which means many engineers simply don’t understand PEMBs well enough. “Getting an engineer to think outside the box and go with a PEMB takes a lot of work,” Cotner says.
That said, there are engineers who believe you can do just about anything with PEMBs.
“I’ve worked with engineers who think they’re the best thing man ever made,” Cotner says. “The industry needs to promote (PEMBs) a lot more.”