If walls could talk, then the North Park Theatre in San Diego, California, would have enough stories to fill a library. Established in 1929, it hosted numerous concerts, shows, parties, and events before finally shutting its doors in 1989. Over a decade of dormancy then passed before it was restored and reopened in 2005. Now known as The Observatory North Park, this venerable University Avenue venue has found new life as a multi-purpose hot spot, boasting a redesigned open-floor space that can accommodate standing crowds of up to 1,110 people.
As can be expected from a building soon to turn 90 years old, some upkeep is occasionally required. With that in mind, The Observatory North Park ownership contacted California-based contractor American Restore to renovate the entire venue, save for the restaurant located in the lobby. Complicating matters was the project’s accelerated time span. Ordinarily, a renovation of this type would be completed over a two-week period. But because the venue is too popular to keep shuttered for long, the American Restore team had to finish their work within just five days.
“We had to do everything on double time and a little bit more rapidly than we anticipated,” explained Dustin Mankaruse, estimator and project manager at American Restore.
A Renovation Plan Comes Together
Given the advanced age and the 5,000-square-foot (464.5 m2) dimensions of The Observatory North Park, it was clear that Mankaruse and his American Restore team had a tall order on their hands. For starters, the entire lower floor had failed coatings and older carpets that needed to be removed and replaced. In addition, the steel floor grates and air vents embedded into the concrete had become corroded and needed to be replaced with new stainless-steel versions. The new grates had to be reinforced with a slip-resistant epoxy coating that would also line the event floor and stairs. As if that wasn’t enough, the contractors were given a last-minute project to repair the chipped concrete “lip” of the elevated stage.
According to Mankaruse, the venue owner was looking for a theater floor surface that would be more hygienic than the pre-existing carpet and would also prevent people from skidding while they enjoyed the musical acts on stage. Fortunately, Mankaruse already had a slip-resistant epoxy coating solution in mind from Dex-O-Tex. Manufactured by Crossfield Products Corp., Dex-O-Tex has often been used in other American Restore flooring projects. Before beginning the project, the contractor provided The Observatory North Park decision makers with 3-foot by 3-foot (0.9 m x 0.9 m) samples with different levels of texture so that the client could choose the one that would best suit the venue.
To replace the venue’s out-of-date grates, American Restore turned to another trusted vendor: Atlas Sheet Metal. This Irvine, California-based company supplied the crew with the materials it needed despite tight deadlines. It helped that Antonio Madriz, an American Restore project manager charged with logistics and material ordering for the project, had a strong working relationship with Atlas and was able to fast-track the steel order. “Atlas got everything together within the three days we needed it, and they even had a guy come in on a Saturday to help us weld a few extra pieces,” Mankaruse recalled.
What posed a greater challenge than gathering materials was coordinating the activities of the six American Restore crew members working on the project. To complete a full restoration within the allotted five days, the contractors split up into two teams. The first crew took the daytime shift and primarily did prep work, such as removing old carpeting and coatings, while the second crew came in at night either to wrap up unfinished prepping or to install the new products. While the crew had to work at an accelerated pace to complete the renovation, rotating the teams helped keep them fresh. Thus, most members completed no more than eight work hours per day. “Unfortunately, our supervisor Walt didn’t get any time off and was there for it all,” Mankaruse said, referring to operations manager Walt Hede.
Although poor Walt may have been pooped by the end of the project, at least the weather in perpetually sunny San Diego cooperated with him and his team. When American Restore began work on the project in mid-July, the temperature was about 70 °F (21 °C) with relative humidity (RH) above 40 percent, according to Mankaruse. “We were very lucky as far as temperature goes in terms of it being the middle of summer and having to do interior work,” he said.
The first two days of the project were primarily focused on prep work. Throughout the five days, crew members wore 3M N95 dust masks and Honeywell full face masks with organic vapor cartridges. They also used two pieces of equipment provided by Standfast Rentals: a Diamatic BS-110 ride-on floor scraper to remove the pre-existing carpets and the mastic underneath them, and a Concrete Polishing Solutions (CPS) G-320DPro Planetary Grinder to create a Concrete Surface Profile (CSP) 3 surface that would enable the team to apply the Dex-O-Tex system. The crews also ran air ventilation systems flowing from west to east to create a positive airflow and used three heavy-duty vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to pick up any excess silica dust.
Once the major prep work was complete, the last three days were spent installing the new materials. Crew members used CTS Rapid Set cement to level certain areas of the theater floor where previously installed underlayment had failed. This cement was also used to build an upward slope toward the stage. As for the stage itself, they used a Dex-O-Tex epoxy grout to repair the lip and chamfer strips to reinforce it.
Each member of the American Restore team used their own trowels and rollers to apply the Dex-O-Tex epoxy system in three layers. The first was a primer layer mixed with a Posi-Tred skid-resistant coating applied at an average of 10 mils (0.254 mm) throughout the venue, including the floors and stairwells. After waiting approximately three to six hours for the primer to cure, the team added a body coat of Dex-O-Tex with Posi-Tred at the same thickness. The team waited another three to six hours after that before finally adding a topcoat of Dex-O-Tex Quik-Glaze polyurea sealer with stain-resistant urethane at an average of 5 mils (0.127 mm). The crew then let the topcoat set for 12 hours before allowing the venue to reopen to the public.
And just like that, The Observatory North Park became better prepared to cope with the massive foot traffic it routinely receives.
All’s Well That Ends Well
So, what did the venue’s ownership think of the final results?
“They were very, very excited,” Mankaruse said. “We made a video of our project for them, and they’ve passed it along to other venues. They’ve also called us back for more work on other areas near the restrooms and upper hallways that need some recoating.”
Mankaruse is proud of the way everyone on the American Restore team, including his crew members and their product suppliers, pulled together to complete such a massive project in a limited amount of time. “Overall, we worked very well as a team to get 5,000 square feet [464.5 m2] done, along with a few stairwells, in five days, which would’ve been a 10- to 14-day project,” he said. “And the customer was happy, so it was as good an ending as we could’ve asked for!”