Practically everything this small community of 1,500 employees (4,000 at the height of the season) requires to operate and maintain one of Southern California’s top attractions can be found clustered in a 50-acre complex of buildings situated directly adjacent to the park.
Here you will find veterinary services for the resort’s animal residents, research facilities, an employee cafeteria, company store and administrative offices. Upkeep and maintenance chores for the entire complex are handled by the plant engineering department, which is made up of welders, electricians, plumbers, painters and carpenters. Of these, the carpenter’s shop is responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of park property, including all of the decorative surfaces.
“With millions of visitors per year, the tables and countertops, in particular, get some heavy use,” says lead carpenter Bill Hopwood. “Originally, most of the horizontal surfaces were covered with plastic laminate, simply because it was cheaper to produce, but we are now moving away from that material.”
Most of the countertops in use at SeaWorld are located out of doors and are constantly exposed to salt water, direct sunlight and a daily hosing down by the resort staff. The fact that solid surface actually thrives in such a harsh and unforgiving environment is further augmented by the material’s wide choice of colors, coupled with its low-maintenance characteristics and ease of repair.
Ramping Up For In-house Production
Although the SeaWorld carpenter’s shop could throw together a laminate top quickly and cheaply in the morning, for example, it was entirely likely one of its corners might get knocked off by that afternoon, which meant the top would have to be thrown away. With solid surface, at least, the top could be repaired and put back into service relatively quickly.
SeaWorld investigated the possibility of purchasing material through local distribution and fabricating countertops in-house. “The distributor finally provided us with some training, which was very basic—after which we began to buy and fabricate sheets,” says Hopwood.
He soon came to realize, however, that more extensive training was needed if he were to properly maintain and repair the existing solid surface in the park, not to mention fabricate new countertops at an acceptable level of quality. “I came across the Basic Fabrication course hosted by ISSFA at its ITEC facility in Nevada,” Hopwood recalls, “and I immediately signed up for the class, which gave me some much needed experience. I have since enrolled in other courses, like Repair Techniques and Advanced Fabrication. We have also sent three other people from the carpenter’s shop to the Basic Fabrication course.”
After a year of fabricating countertops in the carpenter shop, SeaWorld purchased a Strebig panel saw. When purchasing the panel saw, the folks at SeaWorld chose a v-groove attachment option. A benefit of the v-grooving process, was the tendency for countertops to crack straight along the miter-fold joint upon impact. This comes in handy on countertops installed on movable carts, which are in constant use throughout the park.
In addition to putting solid surface on portable carts, the material is used extensively in food service applications for hot and cold food wells, tray slides, cash wraps, condiment bars, etc. within the park. Ticket booths, reception counters, coffee gondolas and literature stands also benefit from use of the material. SeaWorld has also installed hand-washing stations next to areas where visitors have the opportunity to pet the aquatic animals in outside tanks. These countertops are constantly drenched in salt and fresh water laced with the essence of strong hand soap. Virtually any other countertop material would stain or discolor beyond repair—if not just plain fall apart—within days under such harsh conditions. Not so with solid surface. These hard-working countertops take all the punishment the crowds can dish out, and still maintain their nearly new look day after day.