Oklahoma City’s state-of-the-art RIVERSPORT Rapids center is only one of a few such facilities in the world. The $45.2-million center, which opens in May, 2016, offers whitewater rafting and kayaking for novices and experienced paddlers. It’s located next to the Oklahoma River, in the Boathouse District.
It features two recirculating channels — one recreational and one expert — to accommodate everyone from first-time kayakers to elite athletes. Water flow can be adjusted to offer various levels from Class II (Novice) to the more challenging Class IV (Advanced) rapids.
The 11-acre site required a tremendous amount of dirt moving — about 115,000 cubic yards were moved in for the project. Downey Contracting in Oklahoma City performed the dirt work, as well as the utilities and most of the concrete structures.
After cutting out the channels for the two courses and the large reservoir, the contractors imported massive amounts of fill that were needed. According to Jack Knox, dirt superintendent for Downey, the crew hauled in loads of dirt from another site two miles away, “typically running eight to 12 trucks, hauling in as many as 220 loads a day.”
Riding the wave
To complete the work, Downey utilized an armada of John Deere construction equipment, including a 350G LC Excavator, a 650K Dozer, and a 700K Dozer, as well as backhoes, wheel loaders, and compact machines. Downey Contracting has operated John Deere equipment since Larry Downey founded the business back in 1980.
Through the years, the company has grown in size from only Downey and a couple employees, to one of the top companies in Oklahoma City. Downey graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in architecture. “They didn’t have a degree in construction management,” he recalls. “After graduating, I began working for a general contractor and doing bids, and soon formed my own company.”
The company started by performing small jobs at Tinker Air Force Base, located southeast of downtown Oklahoma City. Today, Downey Contracting employs more than 100 people, with annual earnings of approximately $40 million. “We’ve grown consistently since the beginning. It’s all about having great staff. I’m very proud of our people,” Downey says.
In addition to its work on RIVERSPORT Rapids, the company’s other signature projects in the area include the Children’s Zoo at the Oklahoma City Zoo and the tropical conservatory at the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
Downey’s employees and equipment are used to working in extreme conditions. To build the tropical conservatory, workers had to deal with temperatures up to 120 degrees. “They wore ventilated, air-conditioned suits,” says Downey. “That was a tougher job than we imagined.” Construction equipment and operators on the RIVERSPORT Rapids site endured Oklahoma City’s extremes of heat and cold.
The 350G LC Excavator was leveraged for mass excavation and also employed for most of the final grading. “It’s a big machine, so you’d assume you can’t be very accurate with it,” says Knox. “But we’re getting everything right on grade. It’s got smooth controls and superb visibility.” The 650K and 700K Dozers pushed around the hundreds of loads of dirt that were hauled in every day.
Downey Construction uses a telematics system called JDLink™ to remotely connect to their equipment, providing alerts and machine information including location, utilization, performance, and maintenance data to manage where and how equipment is being used. Alerts immediately notify them if there are machine issues so they can be addressed before causing costly repairs and downtime. “Our dealer (CL Boyd, Oklahoma City) has access to diagnostic codes, so they can bring the right part out the first time without having to make a second trip. It’s quick and easy.”
This level of connectivity is made possible thanks to a communications controller, a GPS and cellular antenna, and harnesses installed in the machine that wirelessly sends machine data to the JDLink server where it is available to customers like Downey through the JDLink website.
Fast facts about RIVERSPORT Rapids:
- Designed by the same team that developed Lee Valley White Water Centre in the United Kingdom for the London 2012 Olympics
- Powered by six pumps that weigh more than 12,000 pounds each
- Each pump circulates 82,000 to 492,000 gallons per minute. It would take 80 seconds to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool
- The freestyle channel makes it the highest-volume pumped whitewater channel in the world
- The trip down the recreational channel takes 15 to 20 minutes including the conveyor ride to the top
- The competition channel takes 10 to 15 minutes
- Approximately 2,000 people are able to raft in a single day, making it one of the biggest rafting facilities in the world
- The conveyor that pulls rafts to the top of the run is approximately 170-feet long with a 21-foot elevation change
- It is capable of moving nine fully loaded rafts or 13,500 pounds at one time