The New Arctic Oilfield Hotel

Mar 2, 2016 | Arctic, Oil & Gas, Tourism

Susan Harrington

Rendering of CH2M’s new Arctic Oilfield Hotel in Deadhorse.

Way better than the old AOH

For a company that a year ago decided not to divest itself of its Alaska holdings, nothing quite says “We’re committed to Alaska” than investing in the construction of new housing facilities for its employees and to better serve their clients.

The old Arctic Oilfield Hotel (AOH), home for 350 of CH2M’s more than 2,200 employees in Alaska, was built in the ’80s with ’70s era modules (stacked trailers). The new AOH, three stories tall with room for 450 employees initially (and potentially 600), is being built on the same seven acre pad as the old AOH. It’s centrally located at the corner of Spine and Sag River roads in Deadhorse, close to both guard shacks. And it’s coming along nicely.

The existing Arctic Oilfield Hotel in Deadhorse, early February.
© CH2M

More Room Needed, Better Rooms Wanted

Initial project planning began four years ago with the need for more room and growth capacity.

“The biggest impetus is that we have a serious shortage of housing for our workforce in Deadhorse,” says CH2M Vice President of Equipment and Infrastructure Kelly Droop.

The company services a majority of its clients out of Deadhorse—CH2M employees work for a number of clients on any given day with a variety of industry including fabrication; construction; specialty services’ operations and maintenance; fluids hauling; rig movements and support; equipment services including crane, light and heavy duty equipment rental, and maintenance; full service vehicle maintenance; facility operators; industrial wash and steam bay; and facility maintenance.

“We were spending millions of dollars housing overflow employees or when we were getting ready for a big drilling season push, we were spending a great deal of funds housing people elsewhere,” Droop says.

Even though there has been an increase in housing in Deadhorse over the last few years, Droop says CH2M wanted something suited for their employees and future capacity for the long run.

“A lot of it wasn’t of the [standard of] quality for long-term housing for our employees,” she says. “Our employees live up there year-round 365 days a year. They’re on a rotation but they work year-round, it’s their home. For a lot of them they are there more than at their ‘home-home’ away from work and they deserve some privacy, and some respect, and some amenities that a lot of that temporary housing in Deadhorse doesn’t provide.”

CH2M strived towards providing a camp up to today’s standards of living with amenities taken for granted while still ensuring a cost-efficient solution, especially considering today’s oil prices. Working closely with all contractors from designers to builder and installers was the key to deliver a high-quality project for the next thirty years with all necessities while still remaining within budget. While many areas of the camp are smaller than originally planned, they have managed to pack a variety of the highly desired features into the building.

The New AOH

A lot of work, thought, and feedback went into the design of the new AOH. Winchester Alaska, Inc., headed by Jerry Winchester, began designing the camp in January 2015. Droop says CH2M selected Winchester because the firm designed many camps recently built on the North Slope and was present for the commissioning when those camps came on line. They wanted to know what was learned from the others—what was right, what was wrong, what could be done differently. They wanted the best camp possible for their employees so they would be rested and ready for work.

“We worked with Winchester, and at 35 percent design we posted the drawings and started soliciting employee feedback,” Droops says. “Then we would return answers to the feedback and post it in our existing camp on the North Slope.”

They also sent those 35 percent drawings to multiple camp builders and camp operators and asked for feedback. The final design emerged with single occupancy, highly efficient rooms designed to have full storage for two employees; alternates can leave all their gear in their own room in their own lockable closet when they’re off shift. Every room has a vanity and a separate room with a toilet and shower. The showers have glass doors, not curtains. The windows have black out shades. Lighting is LED, dimmable, and the switch is bedside. There’s a built-in desk. High end, energy efficient boilers provide hydronic heat and there’s a thermostat in every room.

Each room has a smart TV with HDMI by the bed at the desk, which also has a charging station. People can use the flat screen for gaming, a computer monitor, or to Skype family, and CH2M is looking into providing the capability to stream video and access pay-per-view as part of the hotel-like amenities they are considering offering. Every wing will have laundry facilities for residential use, with a separate place for housekeeping to work out of.

Some things we take for granted in other parts of the world can be difficult to come by in Deadhorse. This is why there is an Internet café with espresso and smoothies: a coffee shop feel instead of a lounge. There’s WiFi and cellular boosters for a strong signal throughout the camp. Other shared areas include an exercise room, a weight room, a recreation room with pool and ping pong tables, and an Internet gaming room, which, Droops says, “is a nod to our up and coming younger workers. Since their own private rooms aren’t massive, it’s their place to go sit on a couch and enjoy Wii with a couple buddies. That would be fun. Or even just to watch football in there would be fun. So we’re making that available for them.”

ICE Services is performing all of the IT work on the new camp and bringing their hospitality industry experience on the North Slope with them for a cutting edge design.

Like the current camp, the new AOH will have a dry sauna. It was originally eliminated from the new design, but put back in after feedback from employees, which heavily influenced the shared amenities throughout.

In addition there will be a commissary and a locker room on the first floor. The big kitchen and main dining hall are also on the first floor, with seating for more than two hundred. The new AOH has a larger than normal spike room with a deli-style sandwich bar so employees can pack a lunch before going on shift. Employees tend to eat in their rooms after shift and stop by the dining hall to pick up meals to go. With two shifts operating, people come and go at different hours and the dining hall is open slightly longer hours to accommodate everyone.

The new AOH is going to be a great place for employees to come home to after working a long shift; and its copper penny siding and symbolic circle windows going up front and center to the second floor will add some class to the neighborhood.

Part of CH2M’s new logo has a tiny circle, a dot that symbolizes the globe, the world, the people, and the possibilities. “We’re using the circle in the carpeting, windows, and maybe the art,” Droop says.

The atrium of the new Arctic Oilfield Hotel in Deadhorse will rise up from the front of the building with round windows to the outside in the coffee shop/smoothie bar (above and far right). Large pieces of artwork are planned for the walls in the banquet area (right).

Other Design Features

Safety, energy efficiency, and quiet are three design features important to CH2M for the new AOH.

“Safety, of course, was number one. We definitely wanted our camp fully sprinklered,” Droop says. They are putting all the firewater tanks in an adjacent utility building that is not being demolished.

Also, the boilers for the heating system, the insulation envelope with high value insulation, water efficient fixtures, and electrical infrastructure with all LED lighting are all highly energy efficient. “We’re really focused on energy efficiency at this camp,” she says.

Something else important was simply quiet. “We wanted to do soundproofing to prevent fatigue because we wanted to protect our people and one way is getting a good night’s sleep. We want them rested to be driving and operating equipment and it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep up there, especially in an older camp,” Droop says.

Phase One in Full Swing

Construction of the project is well underway. Bob Anderson and Darin Marin are the two CH2M project managers. They alternate working on site and back in Anchorage—when Anderson is on the slope, Marin is in town working quality aspects and vice versa. There are a lot of components to manage and coordinate.

All contracts were awarded through CH2M’s strict procurement process.

Builders Choice, Inc. was awarded the contract last October to manufacture the modules in their factory in Anchorage, convenient for CH2M, which has an office at the plant for their QC effort. Module construction began in November 2015.

“They have a great reputation and they’ve been amazing to work with so far,” Droop says of Builders Choice. “We worked with both Winchester and Builders Choice to make sure we did staggered walls; which allows the insulation to get between the studs. You have a two by six wall with two by fours in between and the insulation is woven between them. We made a real effort to address soundproofing.”

Let’s Be On Our Way

The first modules were finished in December 2015 and shipping began right at Christmas.

“Our shipper is Carlile and they are doing all the transportation for us,” Droop says. “It’s a pretty big project. We have over 150 modules coming up for the first phase and about 30 more, so overall it is about a 180 module project.”

Carlile is transporting six to eight modules a week at peak production.

Criterion General was selected as the general contractor; they’ve done several projects with CH2M in the past and Droop says they are “sticklers for quality.”

Before all that construction could begin, though, a portion of the old camp had to be demobilized—at least part of it. The first step for Droop was to relocate 150 employees into temporary housing offsite in Deadhorse. She did that the last week of January, by then twenty modules manufactured by Builders Choice were on site, delivered by Carlile. Moving the employees was followed with the process of demobilizing three of the north facing wings at AOH.

“The new camp has a much more efficient footprint,” Droop says. “We have over 110 acres and about twenty-five facilities in Deadhorse, but we’re replacing the camp at the same location as the old one because we have an existing water and wastewater facility that we’ll be using to service this new facility.”

Not everything being demobilized gets destroyed.

“We’re saving a few more-recent wings that were newer additions to the camp for future use, for ‘farther away from Deadhorse’ projects,” Droops says. They’re saving a few to reuse “Out West”—what they call the area where the development is going on. Droop sees it as a sustainable option and future opportunity for CH2M to provide housing farther away from Deadhorse to save their clients commute time. In the future, this type of asset could support additional remote work at places like CD5, where CH2M recently completed a module installation project.

Central Environmental, Inc. was selected for disposal of the remaining older AOH modules. CH2M is also using their expertise to do demolition.

“I probably shop for cranes more than I go shopping for shoes”

-Kelly Droop.
Vice President
Equipment and

Sharing the Work

Not every facet of the project is being contracted out. The company decided to self-perform the foundation setting—CH2M has been setting piling for many years on the North Slope. “It’s one of our specialties,” Droop says. “We’ll be drilling and setting our own piles with our crane fleet; then our specialty crane division in addition to doing the pile setting will also be erecting the camp, doing all the picking, and setting the modules for Criterion.”

In addition to infrastructure and real estate, part of Droop’s role is equipment. CH2M has more than one thousand pieces of equipment in their fleet and has an emphasis on fluid hauling and transportation that includes more than one hundred heavy tractors. As of 2016, they own fifty-two 325BBL Vacuum Trailers. With thirty cranes—ranging from 30-ton boom trucks to 440-ton crawler cranes—CH2M has the largest crane fleet on the North Slope. “I probably shop for cranes more than I go shopping for shoes,” Droop says. “I bought a lot of cranes this year and we have actually a really renewed crane fleet. We’re pretty excited.”

They’re also pretty excited about the whole project.

“It is definitely going to be a lot more efficient,” Droop says. “We can get all of the main kitchen, dining room, the elevator, all the core, up and running in this new camp and commission what we’re calling phase one and it will house 350 people by July, which allows me to move everybody I’ve currently been housing in my old camp in—the 150 I moved down the road and the 200 I still have in my old camp that we’re disconnecting now.”

No more double rooms, no more bathrooms down the hall.

Phase Two

After that the next phase begins. “Then we have a little bit different decommissioning with the main original core of the camp because it has to be basically scraped off,” Droop says.

Once Central Environmental removes the rest of the old camp the new south wings will get finished and the new AOH will be fully online by the end of the year.

Currently, CH2M is building for 450 beds and an option to increase to 600 beds with VESTA Housing Solutions was under negotiation at press time in early February. CH2M was also in negotiation with ESS Support Services Worldwide to be camp operator.

Either way, it’s one of the largest capital projects for CH2M and positions the company’s Alaska workforce with a competitive edge—quality housing for quality people.

“Regardless of the apprehension about what’s coming, what the next year is going to look like, we still need a great place for our employees for the next thirty years,” Droop says. “It helps us control our own destiny when we can house our own workforce. They just need a quiet, private place to live with good food. Our employees remain our most valuable resource in service to our clients, thus the investment in their health, safety, and well-being ensures we’re at our best to deliver excellence on the job as our clients expect.”


This article first appeared in the March 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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