Sheet metal workers collaborate to design, fab, install system for retractable roof

FLUSHING, NY – When renovations called for the addition of a roof to the 19-year-old Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City, sheet metal contractors came on-board to add ductwork. What’s the big deal? The roof, designed to protect players and fans alike from often unpredictable outside elements, is retractable. Meaning, the ductwork has to move.

Triple S Air Systems, a SMACNA contractor out of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., worked with general contractor Hunt Construction, mechanical contractor F.W. Sims, Inc., M/E Engineering, and Rossetti Architects for about four months designing the complicated system that included 76-inch diameter ductwork, with 2-inch rigid liner board that could flex 6 to 12 inches when the roof retracted. No one on the team—including journeymen with decades of experience—had ever seen a similar project before.

Rather than working independently, as is the norm, all design and construction partners, including roofing material manufacturer Johns Manville, came together from the very beginning to collaborate on a unique solution.

The magnitude of the completed project is impressive indeed, rising 125 feet on eight steel super-columns, supporting 4.4 acres of fabric membrane with two 500-ton panels that open and close over a 250-foot-wide opening.

“Coming up with a good solution required innovative thought, trial and error, and groundbreaking ideas from all concerned,” said Norman Neill, foreman for Triple S Air Systems and a member of SMART Local 28. Ultimately, the team used catenary cable systems hung from the new external steel skeleton to distribute the weight of the duct, allowing the duct work to essentially move with the new retractable roof. Triple S fabricated the ductwork in-house and then transported sections weighing between 650 to 1,250 pounds each to the stadium. Every piece was perfectly fabricated, which allowed for a smooth transition from the shop to the job site, and a clean installation. Because of this well-thought-out plan, Triple S completed the project under budget for field hours, said Steven Benkovsky, president of the company.

“Even with the design challenges, we completed the project ahead of schedule and under budget,” he said.

Based on Triple S’s success on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the company was recommended by contractors for the next project at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center—the rehab of the Louis Armstrong Stadium. He attributes a large part of the company’s success to the training and expertise of the SMART union craftspersons, who operated safely and efficiently on scaffolds and lifts nearly 100 feet off the ground.

“It really put us ahead of the competition,” Benkovsky added. “They’re willing to pony up a few extra dollars for us, because we do good work.”

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The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) have a labor-management partnership that is more than 75 years old. The goal of these Partners in Progress is to maintain an effective cooperative effort that demonstrates their expertise in the heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), architectural metal, and industrial sheet metal markets. For additional information, visit

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